Hunt them down

The latest report of the International Maritime Bureau has shown the utter failure of international efforts to check piracy off the coasts of Somalia. Though naval vessels from many countries are patrolling the vulnerable region, capturing ships and demands for ransom have actually increased. According to the bureau’s estimates, there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of attacks on shipping in 2010. Forty-nine vessels were captured, 1,016 crew members taken hostage and millions of dollars were paid in ransom. The incidents have been increasing in the last four years and have touched a record now. Hundreds of sailors are still in captivity. The maritime watchdog has sounded a note of alarm.

Pirates are now using captured ships as bases for attacks on other vessels. They have improved their tactics and are using the latest technologies in their operations. They also operate in a wider area than earlier. Apart from loss of lives and untold mental tension for families of captured sailors, this is causing shipping costs to escalate, because of higher insurance premiums and delays in delivery of goods. Twenty-eight vessels and 638 sailors were being held in captivity at the time of the report. This is when the best navies of the world are considered to be on alert and in action in the area. There is no co-ordination among these naval vessels and there is no effective anti-piracy plan being followed by them. There was a proposal to put in place a contingent like a UN peace-keeping force under a single command but it has reached nowhere. There is also no agreement on the legal action that can be taken against captured pirates. There is a view that the problem can be solved only if the political situation in Somalia improves or is made normal through intervention. But this is impractical and amounts to an acceptance of failure. The international community should take more effective steps to ensure that the shipping lanes are safe.

Indian shipping is also affected and the threat has moved closer home with the expansion of the pirates’ operations. A coast guard station has been set up in Lakshadweep in response to the situation. The Chinese navy is more active in the area than Indian war ships and this is a source of greater discomfort to India. Therefore, it is in India’s strategic interests also to curb piracy in these waters.

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