Hijacking brought Somali pirates a bounty of US$60 million last year. How can the problem be tackled?

What’s to be done about piracy in Somalia?

This is an intractable problem has being going on with ever greater reach and sophistication for more than 20 years. There is no end in sight. However many patrols there are the answer probably lies on land, where there has been no stable central government since 1991.

Piracy here is no simple Robin Hood story of poor men against the rich. In a country wracked by poverty and anarchy, a few gang leaders are immensely wealthy and powerful. They live in high style in mansions ashore while the foot soldiers do the dirty work, the risky work at sea.

Photographer Veronique de Viguerie did a brilliant photo assignment last year showing life with the pirates, which you can view HERE

According to Andrew Mwangura from the East Africa Seafarer’s Assistance Programme, who follows each ship hijacking closely and is often a spokesman on the subject, Somali pirates are raking in around US$60 million a year from ransoms.

By his calculations, 12 ships and crews have been captured in the last year, including British yachtsmen Paul and Rachel Chandler. In most cases, large ransoms have been paid.

Some of these ransoms are paid through insurance, though this generally covers vessels not crew. France and Spain are among the countries known to have paid ransoms for crews to be released.

The UK has a different policy, hence the terrible and distressing plight of the Chandlers.

The bounties are huge. A ransom of over $7 million was reportedly paid recently for the release of the Greek crude carrier Maran Centaurus and 28 crew.

Somali pirates are currently demanding ransoms for 11 kidnapped ships and crews. An estimated 280 people are being held in captivity.

Naval patrols are being stepped up but looking at these figures all they may be doing is stamping out the fire only for it to spark somewhere else. As Veronique de Viguerie’s images show, they are using glassfibre dories that can be stacked and transported around on the back of a lorry and launched from any part of the coastline.

The political consensus does, however, seem to be growing. After one of its ships and 25 crew were captured in October (a ransom of US$3.5 million was paid for their release) China has joined the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, or CGPCS.

This is a group of 45 countries and seven organisations including NATO, the EU, the African Union and the Arab League co-ordinating military efforts to ‘bring an end to piracy off the coast of Somalia’.

To date, more than 80 pirates have been captured and are being prosecuted through the Kenyan legal system. Trouble is, it’s the tip of the iceberg. The prizes involved ensure there are plenty more where they came from.

What do you think could or should be done? I’d love to know.

 

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