Somalia continues to hold maritime industry hostage, say state leaders
Pirates hold 45 Filipino seamenBy Gemma Q. Casas
DUBAI—War-torn Somalia, with its worsening modern-day piracy problems and the growth of Islamic terrorist group Al Shabaab in the country, remains to be a major global security threat and will continue to hold the global maritime industry hostage unless the international community helps this once prosperous African nation, said state leaders who convened in Dubai for the 2nd UAE Counter-Piracy Conference.
The UAE-led conference held on June 27 to 28, 2012, brought together for the first time in 21 years the president of the transitional federal government of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed; and Somaliland President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo, who signed a communiqué agreeing to formally endorse the process of talks between the two warring governments.
Jose Brillantes, Philippine foreign affairs undersecretary for special and ocean concerns, meanwhile, said 45 Filipino seafarers and five ships are still held by the Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
“The threat posed by maritime piracy to global trade, and to the region’s security and economic well-being, continues to be grave,” said UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
UAE, which brokered the deal between TFG and Somaliland, pledged $1 million to support Somalia’s maritime security-capacity-building efforts in countering the activities of the pirates.
“This commitment is made as part of a larger commitment the UAE will make to comprehensively support the development of the Somali Coast Guard, following the 20 August end of the transition and formation of a permanent central government, with a new constitution,” said Dr. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
The money is managed through the Trust Fund to Support Initiatives of States to Counter Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia. Since its inception in January 2010, the Trust Fund has accumulated $14 million, of which $13.1 million has been spent.
Gargash said that in addition to the money, the UAE would provide Somalia with boats, communications equipment and facilities like a central operating station in Mogadishu.
“The international community must ensure that Somalia is supported to develop the requisite capacity to enforce maritime safety and security within its territorial waters. It is only through increasing Somali ownership in this regard that a long-term solution can be achieved,” he stressed.
Since civil war broke in Somalia in 1991, the country has been in chaos with no official government ruling over its 10 million people.
Sea piracy became a way of life for many Somali fishermen in search of a livelihood. They demand ransom for their captives, and their loot is believed to be used partly to finance Al Shabaab’s operations.
According to scholars who submitted papers for the conference, the total cost of piracy in 2011 was about $7 billion.
“Piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to be a global challenge, threatening the lives of seafarers, disrupting international trade, victimizing Somali people as well as sailors, and affecting the world at large,” they said.
Donna Hopkins, coordinator for Counter Piracy and Maritime Security for the Bureau of Political Military Affairs at the US Department of State, said the world first noticed the gaining strength of modern piracy in 2008 with the hijacking of M/V Faina, which was carrying a cargo of heavy weapons.
Subsequently, the pirates hijacked the Saudi oil tanker M/V Sirius Star which carried about $100 million worth of fuel. It was released after paying $3 million to the pirates.
DP World, which operates over 60 shipping terminals across six continents, said the EU Naval Force, which provides escorts to merchant vessels sailing through the piracy-infected waterways, reported 30 incidents involving pirates so far this year compared with 176 in 2011.
But while the number of attacks dropped, the level of violence used on seafarers has escalated.
“The pirates not only endanger the lives of hundreds of seafarers and disrupt vital economic activities, but also undermine Somalia’s stability and prosperity,” said DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem.
DP World co-sponsored the event along with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs with His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, deputy ruler of Dubai, welcoming the guests from different nations and representatives from various maritime and shipping companies across the globe.
Talk is cheap
Mohammed Ali Warsame, deputy minister in Somalia’s independent state of Galmudug, told this reporter in an interview, that the pirates had ties with big-time syndicates, which provided them high-powered weapons and resources to carry out their activities.
Galmudug, in central Somalia, is controlled by the pirates and the Islamic militant group Al Shabaab.
The British-educated Warsame said the $1 million that the UAE gave Somalia was nothing compared to what the pirates spend to operate in their area.
“That is nothing. The pirates can buy the best weapons and influence anybody because they have millions. What we need is the help of the international community,” said Warsame who returned to Somalia in 1989 after studying in London.
“I hope this conference is different from the ones we had before. Beautiful words and talks are nothing without action. They would just be useless,” he added.
Warsame said the pirates should be fought on the grounds of Galmudug but Somalia’s military remains weak.
Hundreds of thousands of Somalis remain in refugee camps and those still living in the failed state just have one meal a day or no meal at all in some days.
Warsame said the growing strength of Al Shabaab and the pirates are making things worse for the country’s political unrest.
“Somalia is getting better but still far away because we still have this Al Shabaab and piracy. Al Shabaab is very bad. They are killing people for their own interest and sowing hatred in the international community. Piracy, we believe, involved criminals from mafias from other countries. They care only about their interest and the money,” he said.
The Philippines, one of the largest suppliers of manpower in the global maritime industry is often dragged into the piracy dilemma as more than 800 Filipinos have been held hostage by the Somali pirates since 1996.
Brillantes, who attended the conference along with Philippine Ambassador to the UAE Grace Relucio Princesa, said piracy is a complex issue that needs the attention of the international community.
“Sometimes, there’s a clash between the human cost and the economic cost,” he said. “In the case of the Philippines, I think we have 826 Filipino seafarers who were hijacked or kidnapped since 2006.”
Brillantes said the UAE-led anti-piracy conference is a positive step in helping Somalia get back to its feet and face problems with the pirates.
“The Philippines is one of the major suppliers of seafarers and that is why we would like to protect them,” he said.
Participants to the conference pledged to further work on providing more humanitarian aid to Somalia while enhancing the participation of the private-sector in rehabilitating its economy.
“Ultimately, our shared goal is to enable all Somalis to enjoy lives of peace, security and economic opportunity that have so long been denied to them. Somali youth will no longer be driven by an absence of hope to engage in dangerous criminal activity at sea. In this respect, the international community, together with its Somali partners, still has a long way to go,” said UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Al Nahyan.