Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Act now on Somali Piracy

Last week, the commander of the Indian Navy warship Instabar reported that they had sunk a suspected Somali pirate ship that fired on them. However, that information has been disputed after it was found the ship that was sunk was not a pirate ship but a Thai fishing trawler. This incident will obviously cause strained relationship between the two Asian nations.

The coasts of the Horn of African nation of Somalia has become a hot spot for pirates who have so far hijacked over a dozen merchant ships since the beginning of this year. The international maritime trade along the Red Sea has been disrupted and flow of oil reduced since pirates started wrecking havoc on the free movement of maritime cargo. As reported by media houses, Somali pirates have secured over $150m from ransom paid by owners of hijacked vessels.

With dozens of western navies around Somali coasts including those of Russia, India, Malaysia and others, still, the Red Sea's major strategic shipping lanes remain volatile. Formerly, oil tankers and other cargo ships from the Middle East destined for Europe and North America and other parts of the world used to pass through the strategic Suez Canal because the Suez Canal alleviated the long and torturous ocean voyage around the southern tip of Africa.

The continued hijacking of ships along this route and the demand for ransom by Somalia's heavily armed and well organized maritime crime syndicate will reduce movement of ocean liners through the Suez and will tremendously set an economic obstacle for the Egyptian government and for the rest of the world in the near future.

Just last week, a Saudi Arabian supertanker carrying 2m barrels worth $100m was seized off the coast of Somalia and is now being held hostage by Somali pirates who are demanding $15m ransom. MV Sirius, as it is called, the Saudi Arabian supertanker is said to be five times the size of an aircraft carrier.

While the areas along the Somali coasts ruled by these pirates continue to expand and thrive, the rest of the world is experiencing dwindling oil supplies and shortage of other materials in high demand. A few of the correspondents that had access to pirate-held territories have reported seeing massive new infrastructures including gigantic mansions and sprawling neighborhoods, brand new luxury cars, thriving businesses, uninterrupted weddings, and convoys of newly purchased 'technicals'-anti-aircraft mounted wagons.

With the world eyes on the falling global economy, election euphoria in the U.S., and the war against terrorism, the poor Somali nation continues to deteriorate day by day. Undoubtedly, global inattention of piracy will strengthen pirate activities and perhaps create a new cold war phenomenon. Surreptitious military activities along the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea by major powers could lead to a permanent blockade of the Suez Canal.

On the other hand, the presence of the Russian Navy and her allies along the Eastern rim of the African coast and its continued expansion in the Caribbean Sea could open a power struggle in the not so distant future. The expected naval exercises between Hugo Chavez's Venezuelan forces and the visiting Russian Navy warship is already raising eyebrows that could open old wounds.

Somalia's Transitional Federal Government formed in Kenya by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is already in tatters and on the verge of collapse as the powerful Al-Shabab flexes its muscles ready to deliver the last decisive blows. Somalia's President Colonel Abdullahi Ahmed and his Prime Minister remain at loggerheads while Somali parliamentarians remain stranded in Kenya.

The African Union has failed to meet its expectations as the peacekeeping troops destined for Somalia remain elusive. The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somali soil as stipulated by the Djibouti charter remain to be seen. The few nations that have peace keeping troops in Somalia will have no other option but embark on troop withdrawals if measures are not taken to reinforce their overstretched peace keeping missions in the city of Mogadishu.

Tribal power jostling has been the major obstacle to Somali peace and stability since the collapse of the military junta in 1991. The over dozen reconciliation conferences held by the international community have all ended in fiasco and disastrously failed to materialize.

Therefore, what is now elusive is a concerted global community effort to stabilize Somalia. It is in the interest of the international community to take drastic action to destabilize international piracy and bring the perpetrators of genocide in Somalia to book.

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