Press Center | Freight Shipping Logistics News

Robust diplomatic and other measures are required from Kenya and regional states to redress what is clearly a security and economic emergency.

Robust diplomatic and other measures are required from Kenya and regional states to redress what is clearly a security and economic emergency.

Somalia is strangling Kenya and the entire region at a time when the country can ill-afford it.

The security and occasional military operations to stop terrorists crossing the border, efforts to control illegal arms transfers, illegal migration and armed incursions into Kenyan territory are a significant drain on the Treasury.

Piracy in the western Indian Ocean adds another dimension to this burden.

As a trading nation, Kenya creates wealth from the maritime transport of goods and services to and from the region.

The transport and communications sector contributes 12 per cent of GDP, or Sh195 billion. The sector also employs 94,000 people, five per cent of the labour force.

All this is at risk. Large shipping lines such as Odfell USA of Norway are today rerouting their tankers round the Cape of Good hope, which adds between 12 and 15 days to the journey , at a cost of between $20,000 and $30,000 a day.

THE PIRATES ARE NOT JUST EXTORTING money from ship owners; they are also dangerously close to gutting whole economies.

They have put massive pressure on a vital lifeline and stand to cut it off altogether, resulting in a devastating loss of revenue and jobs.

Maritime insurance rates have gone up tenfold for ships passing through the Gulf of Aden. This translates into higher costs for regional economies.

The threat to national interests is so grave that only robust diplomatic and military action — as opposed to flaccid appeals for help from the international community and half-hearted condemnations — will solve this problem.

By some estimates, there are 12,000 Somali pirates, armed with AK-47 rifles and grenade launchers, infesting the more than one million square miles of sea between the Gulf of Aden and the East African coast. This vital sea lane is used by more than 16,000 ships a year.

As of today, 14 ships — including the MV Faina and its cargo of tanks and arms, as well as the Sirius Star, a $100- million supertanker with another $100 million worth of crude on board – are in pirate hands; 280 crew members are in captivity.

The pirates are getting better at it. The attacks have tripled since last year with 11 of them in this past week alone. The pirates are successful in boarding and taking a ship 30 per cent of the time. There are more of them, with better boats and bigger guns.

The United Nations said the pirates have made between $25 million and $30 million in ransom this year alone. The question now is not if, but when, the terrorists suspected to be operating out of Somalia will take advantage of piracy, either as a means of raising money to fund their activities or to use captured supertankers as diabolical weapons.

There are 15 military vessels in the area protecting the Maritime Security Area created a couple of months ago to provide ships with armed escort across the dangerous 2,900 kilometres of Somali coastline.

This, quite clearly, is not working. Apart from the Indian navy, which sunk a suspected pirate ship that opened fire on it, most navies have taken a gentler approach, disarming and releasing the pirates.

A range of options is available to Kenya and the international community.

The UN has a central role to play in all this. There is some diplomacy to be done to reassure those members of the Arab League who fear that piracy might be used as a pretext to base Western forces in the region more permanently.

Just as it gave India the authority to enter Somali waters in pursuit of pirates, the UN should put in place tougher instruments to empower foreign forces to act.

This should include the power to destroy pirate ships, apprehend, try and severely punish the pirates in any member state. Other measures ought to include serious sanctions against individuals who benefit from piracy.

THE SECOND OPTION IS FOR SHIPPING companies, with the support of governments, to retain the services of private security companies to battle and eradicate the pirates at sea. Perhaps these private companies will succeed where navies have failed.

Or the governments can support the regime in Mogadishu to take full charge of its territory and control piracy. But this regime is wobbly, and rebels, allegedly supported by Al Qaida elements, are only a few kilometres outside Mogadishu.

Somalia has not had a stable, efficient government in 17 years; it is somewhat optimistic to hope it will have one in the short term. Besides, there is a lot of piracy in the so-called autonomous regions of the North.

The final option is for a multinational force to invade Somalia to cut pirates off from ports, patrol coastal areas, disarm and neutralise militant groups — at the risk of acting as a magnet for international terrorists — and basically install a government by force of arms.

These might appear to be gung ho measures, but they are cheap compared to the long term effects and risks of rampant piracy.