Somalia: A terrorism-piracy link?

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Cost of PiracyBy: Allan Jacob

Concerns about a terrorism-piracy link have been raised but naval officials said there is little evidence that points to a direct nexus. Piracy can feed off terrorism and groups such as Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia, may be exporting trouble beyond their shores.

International maritime waters are a wide expanse, stretching for millions of kilometres, and patrolling by navies have curbed pirate activities and ensured the free flow of commerce and fishing to a large extent.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Government of Somalia, spoke of (Al Shabaab) rebels and pirates in the same breath at the second counter-piracy conference in Dubai.

”The pirates are growing stronger and have new weapons and telecommunication sets. A strong response in required in Somalia to prevent piracy from spreading further,” he said.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 13 vessels and 185 sailors are currently being held by pirates; ransoms average $4.5 million per ship. This year, 168 attacks have been reported worldwide with 19 confirmed hijacking cases.

Coalition navies like the 26-member Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) and Nato warships have curbed the scourge, but more needs to be done to ensure pirates do not gang up with terrorist groups, and security agencies and navies are monitoring developments closely.

“Even though there is no evidence to directly link pirates with terrorists, that possibility still exists,” said Lieutenant Isabella Marriott of the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain.

Security forces are not dismissing the chances of a pirate-terrorist nexus and the involvement of some state actors to fan the scourge. Lieutenant Marriott says the Combined Maritime Forces are coordinating with other forces in this regard. “The presence of CMF ships in the area demonstrates our commitment to regional security and stability.”

Last week, an LPG carrier was attacked in the Gulf of Oman, but managed to evade pirate boats by increasing speed. The naval official said attacks in the Gulf of Oman remain “rare and sporadic and there is no evidence to suggest that they (pirates) are targeting that region”.

Many AGCC countries, including the UAE, are members of the Combined Maritime Forces. A US State Department paper said attackers at sea are changing tactics and using dhows to remain undetected in the waters.

A trend in recent years has been the use of ‘mother ship’ as a platform from which to launch smaller, faster boats to carry out attacks against legitimate mariners. A pirate will attack any vessel regardless of size if they feel they will be successful in their attack after taking over dhows, according to the official.

When asked if pirates were procuring sophisticated weapons, Lt. Marriott said they use automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.—allan@khaleejtimes.com

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