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Indonesian bulk cargo carrier MV SINAR KUDUS is the latest victim in a rash of hijacking conducted by Somali pirates, when she was hijacked approximately 320nm northeast of the island of Socotra.
The escalating raids on vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden, the east coast of Somalia, the southern region of the Red Sea, Bab-El-Mandeb Strait and the coast of Oman remains an enigma that envelopes one of the world's most strategic waterways.
It is indeed a problem of monumental proportion that had stunned world leaders, policy makers and pressure groups that themselves unable to draw a clear battleline and create a better strategy to win the war on piracy.
There are currently three naval missions in the Gulf of Aden: Operation Atlanta under the European Union Naval Force, the US led Combined Task Force 151, and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield. These missions have been aided by the presence of warships belonging to China, Japan, Iran, India and Russia, among others.
Despite the presence of about 20 warships comprising of the world’s most powerful navies, the scourge of piracy remains relatively unchallenged.
Piracy has affected both the delivery of humanitarian aid and global trade and even tourism, costing billions of dollars a year. Even as concerted efforts to deal with the problem of piracy have gained momentum since 2008, no tangible achievements have been registered through the multinational anti-piracy campaigns which are hitting a dead-end.
The increasing number of hijackings over the past three years is a powerful indictment of how inefficient the campaigns are and how the international community ineffectively deals with the piracy menace at sea.
The number of pirate attacks against ships has risen every year for the last four years, the International Maritime Bureau revealed recently. Ships reported 445 attacks in 2010, up 10% from 2009. While 188 crew members were taken hostage in 2006, 1,050 were taken in 2009 and 1,181 in 2010.
Since January 2011, more than 13 raids have already been recorded in the Horn of Africa region, casting doubts on the claims by the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia as well as EU NAVFOR, both of which maintain that they have made some positive difference in the ongoing campaign. They may have disrupted some attacks and prevented others, but the overall rate of hijackings and attempted attacks continues to rise.
Hijacking has also seen an increase in ransoms paid for hostages jumping from $3.4m in 2009 to $5.4m by 2010. The pirates currently holding the Danish hostages, for example, recently asked for $5m ransom.
The effect of the increasing pirate attacks along the coast of Somalia translated into a livelihood crisis especially in East Africa as well the parched and bare Horn of Africa region.
As per statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau, prices of essential commodities have sky-rocketed. For instance food prices in the devastated Horn have reached an all-time high with an estimated increase of 10 percent in food prices.
If the rising pirate attacks are anything to go by, there seems to be a real new beginning for the money-spinning illegal activity. No one was expecting the international community to fall short in the fight against piracy, but this is what is happening now.
How are Somali pirates are able to extend their stronghold further into the Indian Ocean, with lesser sophisticated equipment as compared to the world's navies. Does it mean that the Western initiative is on a bent mission in the Gulf of Aden only to broaden their war on terrorism rather than stopping piracy?
It is widely accepted view that homegrown solutions are the only remedy to deal with the issue of piracy. Somalia’s aggravating conflict has transformed the 17th century crime into a global threat and thus there is no doubt that piracy will scale up as long the anarchy in the Horn of Africa nation lasts.
Resolving the 20-year old conflict in Somalia has been a nightmare and stopping piracy without peace and stability in lawless Somalia will be unachievable mission. A recent deal between pirate groups and the Al Shabaab has dealt a deadly blow to the ongoing efforts. The inclusion of Al Shabaab will help pirates to conduct more blatant attacks on merchant ships.
It is very implausible that piracy can be eradicated in a military intervention without adequate international cooperation.
Somali pirates have also strategically responded to the increased military activity, adapting a new way to kidnap and hijack more ships and vessels. The war on piracy therefore has lured the Somali pirates to conduct violent attacks by killing hostages. The message they are sending to world is that they can also fight back and nothing can stop them.
With numerous mother-ships on their disposal, they will broaden their sophisticated attacks. The Indonesian MV SINAR KUDUSJ was immediately used to pirate a Liberian vessel, illustrating the pirates resilience and their new, well-planned strategies.
With the clear failure of the world's navies of stopping pirates at sea, perhaps a coordinated, strategic land-based campaign is the only true option. By going after pirates on land, in their home bases, and denying them refuge, then perhaps then the tides will shift. Now is the time for the TFG, Puntland and the international community to seriously consider this option, but only with effective judicial system ready to put the pirates on trial.
Now a clear battle ensures along the Somali Coast, but who will win this war is a question altogether. For now the pirates are making significant gains and they will be enjoying their rewarding raids at least for the foreseeable future.