HARGEISA, 9 December 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Piracy along the Somali coast has seen an unprecedented increase in the last year. According to the BBC So far, there have been 147 incidents in the waters off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden, compared with 63 for the same period last year. A total of 533 crew members have been taken hostage. Furthermore, according to the BBC again, the IMB (The International Maritime Bureau) also says the pirates appear to have “extended their reach, threatening not only the Gulf of Aden and east coast of Somalia, but also the southern region of the Red Sea, the Bab el Mandab Straits and the East Coast of Oman”.
The pirate’s are becoming bolder with every ransom paid to them and their attacks have now escalated into kidnapping and demanding ransoms from individuals as well as multinational vessels. At present an international search is under way for a British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who were captured by Somali Pirates whilst in their yacht heading to Tanzania from the Seychelles. The combination of the Chandlers ordeal, their desperate appeal for help and the greed of the Somali pirates has firmly placed Somali piracy in the international media spotlight.
Whilst the Pirates and their financial backers may be enjoying the limelight and comfortably living off their ill gotten gains, the majority of the worlds businesses are counting the painful cost of it all. As a result of the pirate attacks, many ships have changed routes and those that have been brave enough to continue using the pirate infested routes through the Gulf of Aden have been forced to pay higher insurance premiums in order to receive basic insurance cover. This has inevitably caused an international rift between insurers and shipping companies who feel that the insurers are using the piracy scare as a method of generating more revenue from what is already a costly and heavily recession hit industry. Since the majority of the worlds consumer goods are transported by sea, the hike in insurance premiums for the shipping companies will be passed on to their clients who will in turn pass it on to their customers. This is already happening in most of the worlds developed economies as the consequences of Somali piracy is been bitterly felt through a rise in food and fuel prices. In addition to this, neighbouring East African Countries such as Kenya where just over a million Refugee Somali nationals live, the proceeds of piracy has lead to a sharp rise in property prices and land costs for ordinary citizens as pirates use their ill gotten gains quickly to buy land and commodities before they are captured.
The pirates have argued unconvincingly that their main motivation comes from a need to protect Somalia’s waters against illegal fishing and dumping of waste from foreign vessels. Whilst this may have been true at first and could have attracted support from international environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, it has proven to be a very feeble justification as a result of the extortionate ransom demands made by the pirates. The fact is that most of these pirates are nothing more than common criminals and gangsters who use their knowledge of the sea to make trade difficult for the rest of the world.
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The impact of these pirate’s criminal activities is been felt socially and politically by the Somali community in the Diaspora who the western right wing press immediately blame for their activities. Peaceful, law abiding Somalis who already are politically and socially marginalised by poverty, racism and social exclusion are now in most parts of the Western world, been used as scapegoats for the crimes of greedy thugs who they have never met or have any relations with. At a Somali cafe in Bristol many made their feelings clear. “I do not know who they are but these pirates seem to be making life difficult for us at school,” a young secondary school student said. “I hope they realise that their actions are leading to some of us Somali students in Bristol been bullied and taunted.” A father of four jumped in and added, “I do not feel safe letting my children play outside anymore because I am afraid that they may get into fights with other non Somali children. With every pirate attack we lose strength as a community and we are more open to attack from the general public who seem to think we are robbing them of their benefits in the UK and robbing them of their trade in the sea.” With Britain experiencing one of the greatest economic downturns in the country’s history and a huge shortage in social housing and school places, the Somali community is already been blamed for creating a huge pressure on the public purse without contributing anything of value to the British economy and society. The painful consequences of Somali piracy in East Africa has been to further add to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of a Somali Community already facing great difficulties and prejudice in the West.
Of course one sympathises with the poverty faced by Somali’s living in the war torn Country but what they are doing is absolutely wrong. The real enemies of the Somali people are not the multinational vessels carrying millions of dollars worth of goods or the poor private amateur sailors wanting to see the world in their yachts but the many failed Somali governments who, had they been functioning properly, would have been able to collect taxes from the users of their territorial waters as well as grant fishing permits to those who were willing to pay a fair price for them.
Tougher international action is needed against Somali Pirates in order to make the seas safe again but sea patrols by international navies is not enough as this will only artificially delay the solving of this piracy epidemic of the Somali coast.
Piracy and its damaging threats can only realistically be eliminated by addressing its root causes which are poverty and state failure on the in land. Furthermore, in line with the European Parliament recommendation, an independent investigation into war crimes and human rights violations in Somalia need to be carried out to bring closure to those who feel that they have been wronged by successive but equally poor governments of Somalia and to bring the perpetrators of misery, abuse and corruption which might have lead to the piracy epidemic, to justice.