Unsafe seas

Unsafe seas


Figures released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) underscore the grave threat that pirates pose to maritime traffic. The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre recorded 102 maritime piracy attacks worldwide in the first three months of 2009 compared with 53 in the same period last year. The number of piracy attacks has doubled in a year. It is not just the number of incidents of piracy that is worrying but the geographic location of these attacks. The waters off Somalia’s coast i.e. the Gulf of Aden region has emerged the favourite playground of pirates. Sixty-one attacks took place near the Gulf of Aden this year, earning it the name Pirate Alleyway. The importance of the Gulf of Aden for world trade is immense as it is through this waterway that Persian Gulf oil makes its way to countries like India, China and Japan. Insurance on cargo transiting the Gulf of Aden has skyrocketed over the past year. Several ships and their crew have been taken hostage. Decades of war and lawlessness in Somalia have made piracy one of the few viable business options for Somalians. Hence the emergence of the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somalian coast as pirates paradise. 

In 2004, the Straits of Malacca accounted for 40 per cent of piracy worldwide. Littoral states Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia — were initially divided in their approach on tackling the problem. Singapore wanted international help in monitoring the waters, the other two were wary of extra-regional involvement. Still they have sunk their differences to address the issue. A multi-national piracy patrol was put together and piracy at the Straits of Malacca is declining indicating that it is possible to prevent piracy at chokepoints. What makes piracy difficult to prevent is that pirates can strike anywhere.

The international naval task force has over 1 million square miles of sea to patrol. Some are suggesting that instead of patrolling the seas, action should be taken against pirates’ bases on land. Steps should be taken to address the root causes i.e. poverty and instability in countries like Somalia that has made piracy attractive. Questions have arisen on how to prosecute those accused of piracy. Experts say there is an urgent need to establish an international legal framework for prosecution of pirates. The threat of piracy is growing rapidly and the world needs to start thinking about ways to address this complex problem before it spirals out of control.

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