Giant motherships give Somali pirates new reach – EU

Monday, 31 January 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: Somali pirates are increasingly using hijacked merchant vessels with hostage crews as giant motherships to attack deeper into the Indian Ocean, the European Union anti-piracy task force says.

Forcing the original crew to operate the ship at gunpoint, pirates can now launch attacks during stormy monsoon seasons, forcing up ransoms, security costs and shipping rates.

Until late last year, navies trying to secure regional sea lanes were facing some 500 young Somalis largely limited to skiffs and small boats powered by outboard motors and open to the elements. When naval officers referred to “motherships,” they were simply referring to the largest small boat in a group.

Even then, the pirates were wreaking havoc, redrawing shipping routes, driving up insurance costs and holding dozens of vessels and hundreds of mariners for months at a time.

“The pirates are changing their modus operandi, taking ships which have been hijacked and sailing them back out into the Somali basin,” said EU Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) Spokesman Wing Commander Paddy O’Kennedy. “Their previous way of doing things was very dependent on the weather. Now they are using larger ships, the weather is having much less effect on their operations and they can travel further.”

When EU aircraft overflew the vessels, officers at EU NAVFOR’s headquarters at a British military base outside London say the pirates swiftly threatened by radio to kill the hostages or lined up prisoners on the deck with guns to their heads.

Grain and oil shippers said this month rising piracy might force them to reroute vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, potentially further pushing up global food and energy prices.

Somali pirates have now mounted attacks within 150 miles of South African and Pakistani waters and 250 miles of India. The level of force used is also rising, with one ship attacked with six rocket propelled grenades during a hijacking attempt.

EU and other commanders had expected a falloff of attacks in December and January as monsoon waves made it impossible to beach-launch small boats.

UN Envoy proposes piracy courts in Somali enclaves

United Nations (Reuters): A UN envoy proposed last week special courts be set up rapidly in the Somali enclaves of Somaliland and Puntland, and in Tanzania, to try captured pirates who are costing the world billions of dollars.

Pirates based in Somalia have turned the busy shipping lanes off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa nation into some of the most dangerous waters on earth.

“Pirates are becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean,” the Envoy, Jack Lang, told the U.N. Security Council.

Many pirates are captured by international warships trying to combat the scourge but 90 percent of them are then released because no place can be found to prosecute them, Lang said.

With conflict-torn Somalia lacking the legal infrastructure to try pirates, Kenya and the Seychelles have prosecuted dozens of suspects handed over by foreign navies. But both have said they would have difficulties coping if all the seized pirates were sent to them.

Lang, special adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Somali piracy, recommended specialised courts be set up within eight months in Somaliland and Puntland in northern Somalia, and at Arusha in Tanzania. They would use Somali law.

Oil cargoes at risk from Somali pirates

Reuters: Better equipped Somali pirates operating deep at sea threaten oil tankers in key waterways, and more naval firepower is ‘desperately needed’ to combat the growing risk, shipping groups warned.

Seaborne gangs are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, international navies have struggled to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean owing to the vast distances involved.

Shipping associations Bimco, the International Chamber of Shipping, Intercargo and Intertanko said in a joint statement on Tuesday the situation had ‘changed radically’ in recent weeks due to new pirate tactics, which included heavier firepower.

“They make greater use of so-called mother ships, some of them large hijacked vessels, which has vastly expanded their range of operation to encompass much of the Arabian Sea between the Gulf of Aden, Somalia and India,” the statement said.

“Over 40 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil supply now passes through waters at high risk from pirate attack.” The groups urged immediate action by governments “before these tactics make trading in the area almost impossible”.

They added, “We call on the world’s governments to note the extent to which additional international naval assets in this region are desperately needed.”

Responding to the growing threat, London’s marine insurance market last month expanded the stretch of waterways deemed high risk from seaborne raiders to include the Gulf of Oman and a wider stretch of the Indian Ocean.