Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Fight Against Somali Pirates Heating Up

Via Yahoo! News (AP) -

Signaling a new offensive mindset, international military officials vowed Friday to fight the pirates as swarms of Somalis moved into the waters off East Africa. Four shootouts with pirates showed that high-seas attacks are intensifying with the end of the monsoon season.

Nearly half the 47 ships hijacked off Somalia last year were taken in March and April — the most dangerous months of the year for ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

In the most serious skirmish Friday, six pirates attacked a vessel before breaking off and chasing the French fishing boat Torre Giulia, said Cmdr. John Harbour, spokesman for the EU Naval Force.

A French military detachment onboard a nearby ship fired warning shots at the pirates. The ship then approached the skiff and collided with it, sinking the skiff and throwing the pirates into the water. Four were rescued, but two others were missing, Harbour said.

A spike in attacks is likely in the coming weeks, said Harbour. This season, though, ship owners and sailors are more prepared to evade pirates, fight back, or they have armed security onboard, raising the likelihood of violence.

"We know the monsoon is over. We know they're coming. We're taking the fight to the pirates," said Harbour.

Crews are successfully repelling more attacks, making it harder for pirates to capture ships and earn multi-million dollar ransoms.

In turn, the Somali gangs are increasingly turning violent. The International Maritime Bureau says only seven ships were fired on worldwide in 2004 but that 114 ships were fired on last year off the Somali coast alone. That's up from 39 incidents off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden in 2008.


Many ship owners are investing in physical defenses like stringing razor wire and adding fire hoses that can hit attackers with streams of high-pressure water. Some ships are even having electric fence-style systems installed.

Crews have thrown everything from oil drums to wooden planks at would-be hijackers clambering up ladders. Last month a crew played the sound of dogs barking over an amplifier to frighten off attackers.

Last year, the average ransom was around $2 million, according to piracy expert Roger Middleton of the British think tank Chatham House. This year, two ransoms paid were around $3 million and $7 million, he said.

The original Somali pirates were fishermen aggrieved over the huge foreign trawlers depleting their seas — a complaint the international community has yet to address despite pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-piracy patrols. Huge ransoms lured criminal gangs into piracy, though, and ransom inflation has made it more expensive to buy the freedom of the more than 130 hostages still being held.

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