China’s participation in an international naval operation to protect ships from pirates off the coast of Somalia should help improve maritime security in the Horn of Africa, an EU naval commander said Thursday.
China said late last year it would co-lead an international task force fighting piracy in the waters around Somalia, where large numbers of Chinese vessels ply the seas, carrying products back to resource and energy-hungry China.
Captain Paul Chivers, Chief of Staff of EUNAVFOR Somalia, the European Union’s naval operation off the coast of Somalia, told reporters China’s decision was “extremely good news and will allow us to surge other assets into the Somali basin, where pirate activity remains at an all-time high.”
He said it was not clear when China would be ready to assume its role as co-leader of the anti-piracy force. While hijackings in the Gulf of Aden have tapered off, “pirate activity in the Somali basin has grown and grown exponentially,” he said.
The Somali basin is a huge body of water in the western Indian Ocean, comparable in size to the eastern coast of the United States, Chivers said. Because of its vastness, naval forces monitor the area with surveillance aircraft.
Chivers declined to give exact figures on the number of recent pirate attacks, saying there were varying definitions of what constitutes an attack. The important point, he said, is that while the number of pirate attacks has gone up, the pirates’ success rate has declined.
In all, Somali pirates were held responsible for 217 acts of piracy in 2009 during which 47 vessels were hijacked and 867 crew members taken hostage. By the end of 2009, suspected Somali pirates held 12 vessels for ransom with 263 crew-members of various nationalities as hostages.
Somali gunmen hijacked a Cambodian cargo ship off Berbera after it unloaded at the port in Somalia’s semi-autonomous northern enclave of Somaliland, a regional maritime official said Thursday.
STOCK EXCHANGES FOR PIRATES
Deputy U.N. special envoy to Somalia Charles Petrie told a meeting at the United Nations on piracy in the Horn of Africa that international naval operations and improved coordination have led to a “decrease in the rate of successful pirate attacks and have raised the cost of pirate operations. And yet piracy continues to expand further out to sea, at times more than 1,000 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia,” he said.
The spread of hijackings beyond the Gulf of Aden, he added, costs money and the pirates are coming up with new ways of financing their activities.
“The rising costs met by ever more innovative financing mechanisms, including the establishment of stock exchanges which allow local investors to earn returns on their investment in piracy operations,” he told the so-called Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia.
Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal.
Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, which is one of the reasons piracy has flourished. With the aid of African Union peacekeepers, its U.N.-backed transitional government is struggling to pacify an Islamist insurgency.
Since the start of 2007, the conflict in Somalia has killed 20,000 civilians and uprooted more than 1.5 million from their homes. The government is confined to a few small blocks of the capital Mogadishu and exerts little influence over the state.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)
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