No end seen to pirate threat, says coastguard

US official warns that issue will continue as long as rule of law is absent in Somalia.
Egyptian schoolchildren watch a US warship transit the Suez Canal following a six-month anti-piracy operation. Courtesy of AFP/Getty.
Egyptian schoolchildren watch a US warship transit the Suez Canal following a six-month anti-piracy operation. Courtesy of AFP/Getty.

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Lawlessness in Somalia is the root cause for ongoing pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, a US coastguard officer has claimed.

Tom Hastings said the recent upsurge in heists and seizures since 2007 would continue unless laws making it illegal for pirates to hold ships in Somali waters were introduced.

“Somehow it became OK for pirates and fishermen to go to sea, capture vessels and bring them back to Somalia, and anchor them in Somali waters,” he told Arabian Business on Thursday.

“Everybody is hoping that at some point there is a law enforcement or governing body strong enough in Somalia that says, ‘you will not use our country to bring your ship back’.

“That’s the whole key here – if you can’t take the ship somewhere and hold it until somebody pays you then you can’t do this kind of piracy.”

Pirates managed to seize a Saudi Aramco-owned supertanker last November, holding the crew hostage for two months off the east coast of Africa. The Sirius Star was eventually released with no one harmed in January this year.

With no central government or strong justice system in place, laws in Somalia have been virtually non-existent for the past 18 years.

The lack of Somali government support is a source of frustration for most nations’ navies, according to Hastings.

“The shipping world asks the navy, ‘why do you exist if you are not going to protect the shipping lines?’ The navy says it’s difficult to patrol so much water.

“We need somebody on land to fix the problem,” Hastings added. “We need somebody, no matter who it is, to establish himself as the rule of law in Somalia and say, ‘you will not commit piracy in our country’.”

Hastings said the problem could worsen if the Somali government fails to act.

“One of the things we are concerned about is the world focus on this and 20 countries are working together to address this problem, but how long will they do that?” he said.

“It’s expensive for those countries and once the media loses interest in this particular story will the navies disappear? With fewer ships, it [controlling piracy] would become more difficult.”

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