The Saga of Somali Piracy

Posted by on Mar 05, 2012 | Leave a Comment

A danger foreseen is half avoided. -Thomas Fuller-Gnomologia

It was reported in the media that a Sri Lankan delegation was expected to travel to Somalia to negotiate the release of six Sri Lankan fishermen abducted by Somali pirates.

Somali Pirates Picture Courtesy:

The Somali pirates, who have demanded the meeting with the Sri Lankan Authorities, abducted the fishermen four months ago when they trespassed into Somalian territorial waters in a trawler owned by a businessman. The pirates, who initially demanded a ransom of $6 million, threatened to kill the fishermen if their demands were not met.
The fishermen live on their daily earnings and barely make their ends meet. Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Rajitha Senaratne said that a Somali man, who had visited Colombo last year to buy a boat and has ties with the pirates, is currently negotiating the release of the hostages.
The same man negotiated the release of 12 Sri Lankan fishermen captured last year managing to get a similar ransom demand forfeited. “We have been assured that the fishermen are alive. We have sent the images of the six fishermen and negotiations are underway to have them released,” said Minister Senaratne.
However, whether the release would come with a price, or could be negotiated without any payment like last year will depend  on the discussions between the pirates and the Lankan delegation. The Somali government has refused to get itself involved in the matter as they have no connection with the pirates, said the minister.
Despite travel plans, the delegation that would comprise representatives of the Fisheries Ministry, the Sri Lankan negotiator and family members of the fishermen are unsure of procedures. “Matters have become a bit complicated now. The pirates are infighting and have divided into several groups, so we are having a bit of trouble figuring out with which group our fishermen are captives with,” said the minister.(Khaleej Times)
The saga of Somali piracy goes on without end, perpetuated by periodical, sensational media stories of daring rescues, multimillion-dollar ransoms or shocking violence.
The world watches confused, while the scale, number and brutality of the attacks steadily increase. They are now more frequent and violent than ever before. The international community has yet to develop any serious strategy. There’s a stubborn unwillingness to take a comprehensive approach to Somali piracy, to investigate its root causes and work from there.
In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brushed off any suggestion that Somali piracy could be solved by addressing its root causes. “You have got to put out the fire before you can rebuild the house. But, right now, we have a fire raging.” Two years later, it is clear that Ms. Clinton’s comments amounted to a misdiagnosis.
The fire is burning hotter than ever, and the house still lies in shambles. Her statement embodies the key error of the international response. It views Somali piracy solely through the prism of security, believing that the problem can be contained and subdued through the use of military force.
The Somali transitional government’s foreign minister, Mohammed Abdulahi Omar Asharq, has been one of the rare voices to state the truth that is both obvious and curiously absent from public discussion: The solution to the problem of Somali piracy is to be found on land, not at sea.“ The world has so far only responded with containment. This is not productive, or effective, or practical, or morally defensible,” Mr. Asharq told a counter-piracy conference in Dubai in April. This sentiment was echoed by Augustine Mahiga, the United Nations Secretary-General’s special representative for Somalia. “The approach to it must first and foremost be political. … There cannot be a military solution.”(Internet)
Implicit in these comments is an acknowledgment that Somali piracy did not arise suddenly or unexpectedly. For almost two decades now, foreign trawlers have poached in Somali territorial waters. Fish stocks have been decimated and coastal regions deprived of their main source of both income and sustenance. European and Asian corporations have been dumping toxic waste off Somalia’s coast, poisoning the water and the people who live near it. Corrupt government officials, treated as legitimate partners by international organisations, siphon development aid and accept kickbacks from the pirates, ensuring that their activities will continue unabated.
The first Somali pirates were men from the afflicted coastal communities, jobless and starving, who organised themselves into groups to demand payment from interlopers in their waters. It did not take long for the less well-intentioned – mainland gangs and warlords – to sniff out the lucrative opportunities and muscle in on the act.
They brought with them the criminal organisation and violence we are seeing increase every day. These are all facts critical to understanding Somali piracy. They are also rarely reported on. It took attacks on international shipping lanes and pleasure craft for us to sit up and take notice.
The first and most critical step is for the international community to recognise that the solution to Somali piracy will not be met by military measures. A real solution will require a comprehensive strategy, including elements of political reform, security and economic development.
It will need to fight corruption endemic to the key coastal regions of the country, to develop honest and motivated local partners. It will need to help replace the job opportunities wiped out by the destruction of the fishing industry. It will need to provide the security and stability necessary for international organisations to operate safely and help rebuild devastated coastal communities.
Until these measures are taken, pirate gangs will have a steady supply of recruits – young men, unemployed, hungry and desperate – drawn by easy money unavailable to them through honest means. The solution to Somali piracy will be found on land, and will need to address the problem’s root causes, not its symptoms. It is evident that in order to eradicate this menace, effective measures should be taken to remove the causes.
Recently it was reported in the media that ex-navy personnel and commandos have been recruited by a businessman in Sri Lanka, who has commenced a business of providing security to vulnerable vessels. It is time that the Government of Sri Lanka recognises that the lives of our fishermen are in grave danger and devise effective means of protecting our fisher-folk.

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