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Drama on the high seas

Drama on the high seas

Piracy, long romanticized in the land of fiction, is back in the real world. And the modern truth is a lot less appealing than the historic fantasies.

June 7, 2010 4:56 by

The security officer of the UAE-owned cargo vessel MV QSM Dubai has called for merchant crews to be weapons trained and armed to fight off piracy, reports the National.

Captain Maqsood Khan said the death of Captain Syed Jafar Jafrid, who was shot and killed in a gun battle with Somali pirates last week, had rocked the UAE shipping community. It is thought to be the first time the captain of a Gulf-owned vessel has been killed on duty, says the paper.

“Arms should be allowed on board. The crew should be trained to fight back,” said Capt Khan. “The pirates know that the crew is unarmed and that is why they attack us. Taking pirates to the international court and filing cases against them is of no use.”

The gun battle occurred after pirates from Somalia attacked the vessel and took control.  Security forces from the Puntland region of the country stormed the ship and “outgunned” the pirates after the captain was killed and they refused to surrender.

And all this for a ship carrying a cargo not of oil, valuable metal, or electronics goods, but sugar.

The increase in piracy is a major concern for the UAE, which has made great progress in its efforts to become a shipping and trading hub. Throughput for Dubai ports alone is expected to reach 150 million tonnes this year, up from 139 million tonnes in 2009.

This latest hijack is one in a long line by Somali pirates who have a surprisingly sophisticated business plan, according to a Security Council report. A basic operation involves eight to 12 pirates at sea for long stretches of time. Each team needs two attack skiffs, weapons, provisions and a supply boat if possible. To be eligible for employment, it helps it the candidate already has a weapon – the ownership of which will entitle him to an A-share, as will provision of a skiff. Militiamen providing security on land (in the event of a successful hijack) receive a B-share. If a hijack is successful, supplies will be required for both pirates and hostage crew – this is usually provided by suppliers who forego payment until a ransom is paid, when they collect a significant profit.

The cause of this increase in piracy is hard to narrow down to any single factor, but mostly it is a combination of desperation on the part of the pirates, and opportunism on the part of financiers and investors (those with assets who often provide the start-up capital or seed money for operations in exchange for a share of the spoils). But both of these stem from the wider failure of Somalia as a state, reports Khaleej Times.

“As generally defined, a failed state is one that does not control all of its territory, provide public services, exercise authority over the state or represent it competently in international relations. Given all of that, the shorthand definition of a failed state is, Somalia,” says the paper.

Which means that, despite the capture of 1,090 Somali pirates over the last two years, with 64 killed, pirates currently hold the highest number of vessels ever at the Somali coast, says the paper.

So until a solution can be found for the failed state that is Somalia, it seems unlikely that one will be found for the piracy plaguing the UAE – and global – shipping industry.

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