Prosecute pirates in their countries ‘to succeed’ in war

A Spanish Navy officer leads out a suspected Somali pirate out of a ship in Mombasa. Photo/REUTERS
A Spanish Navy officer leads out a suspected Somali pirate out of a ship in Mombasa. Photo/REUTERS 

An international maritime organisation has proposed that suspected pirates arrested off the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden be investigated and prosecuted in their home turf to boost the war against piracy.

“It is vital that regions in Somalia such as Puntland continue to take firm action in investigating and prosecuting the pirates. This will be a far better deterrent against Somali pirates than prosecution and punishment in a foreign country,” Mr Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Several countries including Kenya host judicial procedures on suspected pirates arrested in the Horn of Africa nation as part of an international pact under the UN security council.

The IMB, however, observed that such foreign trials had failed to contain the piracy menace even as statistics showed the number of attacks reported this year had surpassed those registered in 2008.

It emerged on Wednesday the number of attacks involving the use of guns had shot up over the nine months to September by more than 200 per cent in the corresponding period of 2009, triggering fresh debate on whether ship owners should deploy armed guards to counter pirates whenever they attacked vessels.

Though several parties including the US Coast Guard department want the use of armed guards allowed, the International Maritime Authority (IMO) has opposed such plans saying it would only worsen the rate of armed attacks.

“A total of 306 incidents were reported to the IMB piracy reporting centre in the first nine months of 2009, while in 2008, the total number of attacks for the year was 293,” the bureau said in its third quarter report.

“The increase in attacks is directly attributed to heightened piracy activity off the Somali Coast, where 47 incidents were reported compared to just 12 for the same period of the previous year, and in the Gulf of Aden, which had 100 incidents compared to 51 for the same period of the previous year”

The report further showed that Somali pirates have extended their reach, threatening not only the Gulf of Aden and East Coast of Somalia but also the southern region of the Red Sea, the Bab el Mandab Straits and the East Coast of Oman.

This area still ranks as the single leading piracy hotspot, with 168 incidents reported in the first three quarters of 2009, accounting for more than half of the reported attacks.

As a sign of their capability to reach far distances, a group of pirates early this week captured a Chinese coal ship-De Xin Hai and its crew of 25 Chinese nationals about 700 miles east of Somali.

China has since warned its ships to stay away from waters off Somali.

“The naval vessels operating off the Coast of Somalia continue to play a critical role in containing the piracy threat,” Mr Mukundan said. “Enhanced security measures by vessels have also made it difficult for pirates to succeed in their attacks.”

Despite the overall rise in the piracy figures, there was a decrease in the number of incidents recorded in the third quarter of 2009 (63 incidents) compared to the first and second quarters of 2009, which recorded 103 and 140 incidents respectively.

The decrease in activity in that period in the Gulf of Aden and off the East Coast of Somalia can be credited primarily to the adverse weather conditions triggered by the traditional monsoons.

A total of 32 vessels were hijacked by Somali pirates in the first nine months of 2009, with 533 crew members taken hostage.

A further 85 vessels were fired upon and as of 30 September 2009, four vessels, with over 80 crew held hostage, were still under negotiation.

Global piracy statistics reveal that in the first nine months of 2009, 114 vessels were boarded, 34 vessels hijacked and 88 vessels fired upon. A total of 661 crew members were taken hostage, 12 kidnapped, six killed and eight reported missing.

However, there was a marked decrease globally in the number of vessels hijacked in the first nine months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008.

“Nigeria remains another area of high concern. While only 20 attacks were officially reported to IMB in 2009, information received from external sources indicates that at least 50 per cent of attacks on vessels, mostly related to the oil industry, have gone unreported,” the IMB said, noting that of the 20 incidents reported, eight were in the waters around Lagos.