This menu organises news, documents, projects, profiles and links into key topics, and the menu along the top divides the contents of the site by type.
Bycatch / discards
Chain of custody / Supply chain management
Corruption / mismanagement
Flag state issues
Governance / management
International trade / WTO
Monitoring, control and surveillance
Port state issues
Retail / consumers
18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
The most dangerous seas in the world
Pirates are terrorising the high seas off Africas east coast.
On a dazzling morning in April, the Playa de Bakio, a Spanish fishing boat, limped into paradisal Port Victoria in the Seychelles, damaged by grenades. Its crew of 26 was shaken. A Spanish military aircraft flew them to momentary fame in Spain. The fishermen had been held by Somali pirates for a week and freed after a ransom of $1.2m - so it was rumoured - was paid, in contravention of Spanish law.
The boat, a big industrial vessel known as a purse seiner, was easy prey. The pirates attacked on a speedboat launched from a mother ship, a captured Asian fishing ship known as a longliner. Once on board, they regaled the crew with tales of famine in their villages. Some of the Spaniards felt sorry for them. When one of the pirates stripped his shirt off, he was all bones, no meat at all, said a Basque crewman. The Spaniards were less enamoured of the pirates when they threatened them with machineguns and knives. They valued life less than cockroaches, said the skipper.
The boat was fishing for skipjack tuna - a staple for sandwiches - across the Indian Ocean. Critics suggested that it was too close to Somali waters, but the boats log recorded it as 247 nautical miles (457km) off Somalias shore when the pirates struck, well outside the official economic exclusion zone that extends 200 nautical miles. Spain banned its fishermen from entering Somali waters two years ago. The boats insurance would have been void if it had done so.
Longliners, which are quite small, do fish illegally in Somali waters, especially in the months after October when monsoon winds draw tuna from across the Indian Ocean. Packed with ice, they try to catch a few tonnes of the more valuable sort of tuna, known as bigeye and yellowfin, while the bigger purse seiners like the Playa de Bakio, most of which are European, sweep up hundreds of tonnes of less valuable skipjack tuna outside Somalias waters. Many cheating longliners are from Taiwan and Indonesia; others are from Sri Lanka, Thailand and elsewhere. With blurred markings, they transfer their catch at sea to bigger cargo ships or bribe officials to land their catch illegally in African ports. There may be a thousand or more of them in the Indian Ocean, unchecked and untraceable. Some buy licences from Somali warlords. A few arm their boats with anti-aircraft guns big enough to blow an approaching pirate skiff out of the water.
Jolly Roger, Somali-style
While these so-called bio-pirates strip Africas waters of a valuable and sustainable resource, the more conventional pirates terrorise one of the worlds busiest shipping lanes. All ships heading south after passing through the Suez Canal must ply the waters between Somalia, a failed state, and Yemen, where civil strife has been increasing. This is now one of the worlds most dangerous passages. The International Maritime Bureau advises ships to keep 200 nautical miles off Somalia. As the attack on the Playa de Bakio shows, that is not far away enough.
There were at least 50 recorded pirate attacks in it last year; some go unreported after ransoms have been paid. This years tally is likely to be twice as high. In the past ten days, a Ukrainian and a German ship have been freed after paying ransoms to Somali pirates thought to be $800,000 and $750,000 respectively. Piracy is plainly spreading more widely across the Indian Ocean. Tanzania reported 14 attacks off its shores last year. Officials in the Comoro Islands say pirates are looking to use their country to attack tankers passing through the Mozambique Channel.
The costs of avoidance are high. Captain Twalib Khamis, harbour master of Mombasa, Kenyas (and east Africas) busiest port, says that avoiding pirates adds two or three days sailing for container ships passing through the Gulf of Aden to Mombasa. Higher insurance premiums push costs up even higher. There are knock-on effects too: most cruise ships, for instance, feel obliged to steer clear of east Africa altogether.
But the pirates biggest victim has been Somalia itself. Some 2.6m of the countrys 8m people depend on food aid that comes by sea. French, Danish and Dutch naval ships have escorted ships carrying food from Mombasa to Mogadishu, Somalias capital, for the UNs World Food Programme, but it is a fragile supply line. In May, a Jordanian freighter, the Victoria, carrying sugar for displaced people, disappeared 56km (35 miles) off Mogadishu before being freed a week later. It is hard for the UN to find shipowners willing to take the risk without an armed escort.
After Somalias collapse into civil war in 1991, some Somalis began to steal the odd small fishing boat. These days the pirates are a lot more sophisticated and better organised, with powerful speedboats, mother ships in the high seas, heavy weapons, satellite equipment, and negotiators abroad who handle ransoms. They target bigger ships at night, lighting up the sky with tracers, heavy-machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
Captured vessels are usually sailed into Somali waters until a ransom is paid. A Danish icebreaker, the Svitzer Korsakov, bound for Kamchatka in Russias far east, recently spent six weeks off the Somali coast after pirates captured it; its crew was fed with goats ferried from the parched shore and slaughtered aboard. The Ukrainian ship freed last week had been held for nearly seven weeks.
Blow them out of the water
In June a unanimously-backed UN Security Council resolution tabled by France and the United States made it legal for foreign navies to chase pirates into Somali waters and, if need be, sink them. But many Somalis are loth to co-operate. Their feeble government lacks the clout to tackle pirates in such places as Haradheere, in central Somalia, where many hail from. Somalis ask why the UN is so worried about the fate of foreigners at sea, while it does so little to help Somalis on land.
In any event, Somalia is not the pirates sole base. They operate out of Yemen too. Pirates from both countries have teamed up with smuggling gangs based elsewhere in Africa who deal in ivory, rhino horn and diamonds from Africas interior, says Christian Nelleman, a UN anti-poaching expert. The illicit goods pass through Somalia and on to Yemeni ports such as Mukalla and Balhaf, thence across Yemens rugged Hadhramaut mountains and on by various routes to China.
So far foreign navies have had only occasional successes. Earlier this year a French yacht, Le Ponant, was seized by pirates with a crew of 30 while sailing from its winter waters in the Seychelles to the Mediterranean. Frances president, Nicolas Sarkozy, ordered Djibouti-based French commandos into action. A ransom of $2m was paid. The pirates freed the yacht and dispersed. One group, speeding away through the Somali desert in a jeep, was tracked down by a French helicopter, shot up, and extradited to France to face trial.
Western intelligence services are less worried about the growing cost to global shipping than the possibility that the pirates may link up with, or turn into, Islamist terrorists. The Americans are paying Lloyds List, a London-based shipping newspaper, for data on shipping movements in the area. They have captured Abd al-Rashim al-Nashiri, al-Qaedas mastermind for attacks at sea, and are seeking the death penalty for him. He is accused of organising the attack on the USS Cole in Aden in 2000, when 17 American sailors were killed, and another on a French tanker, the Limburg, in 2002. Port security in Aden and Mombasa has been stepped up.
African governments have yet to realise that they will have to do more themselves. East Africa does not have a single warship in good shape. Tanzanias navy chief, Brigadier Said Omar, says that his fleet never reaches the high seas; its operational range is 20 nautical miles. When asked to describe his ships he laughs sadly. Ships? We dont have ships. We have very old, very small boats. Peter Kivuyo, Tanzanias police marine chief, says his force might reach five nautical miles offshore if the waves are small. His men do not even have binoculars. After President George Bush visited Tanzania earlier this year, some hints were dropped - so far to no avail - that some high-speed interceptor boats might come in handy.
Africa may have to look to South Africa, the continents sole coastal country between the Red Sea and the Cape with a proper navy. Western governments seem reluctant to invest in anti-pirate measures. So far the pirates seem well ahead in an increasingly lethal and costly game.
click to view source website
Issues/Monitoring, control and surveillance
Ocean Areas/Indian Ocean
South Asia/Sri Lanka