UN extends approval to attack pirates

Security Council members have boosted political and military efforts to tackle Somalia's pirate-infested waters.

A French soldier scans the coast of Djibouti as part of an assignment to escort commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden.
Powered by automated translation

NEW YORK // Security Council members have boosted political and military efforts to tackle Somalia's pirate-infested waters, but analysts question whether world powers are truly committed to restoring stability to the troubled Horn of Africa. On Tuesday, the 15 countries that make up the body voted unanimously in favour of a resolution that extends by one year permission for foreign navies to enter Somalia's territorial waters and tackle seaborne raiders using "all necessary means". Heavily armed and technologically savvy, Somalia's brazen pirates have mounted ever-more ambitious raids on scores of vessels this year, last month hijacking a Saudi supertanker filled with US$100 million (Dh367m) worth of crude oil. Jean-Maurice Ripert, France's UN envoy, praised the resolution and the imminent deployment of four warships under the European Union flag, which will escort boats loaded with urgently needed aid along the country's 3,000km coastline. The ambassador said the British-run mission "will make a major difference" to security across one of the world's most important waterways when it begins scouring the seas this month. "We will have the legal basis to decisively fight pirate ships," he told reporters outside the Security Council on Tuesday. "We can act against those who threaten the lives of Somali people and the essential vessels coasting on the sea alongside Somalia." The small European fleet, dubbed Atlanta, will join other international warships that were deployed to create a security corridor in the Gulf of Aden, but which have largely failed to reduce the number of raids. About 100 attacks on ships have been reported off Somalia's coast this year and 40 vessels hijacked, with 14 still remaining in the hands of pirates along with more than 250 crew members, according to maritime officials. As council members debated the crisis on Tuesday, bandits riding in two skiffs fired rifle shots at a luxury US cruise ship carrying hundreds of tourists during a failed hijack bid. An estimated 21,000 ships sail through the Gulf of Aden annually, many passing between Europe and Asia via the Suez Canal. Piracy fears have compelled some skippers to make expensive and time-consuming detours around the Cape of Good Hope. Sam Dawson, a spokesman for the International Transport Workers' Federation, which represents shipping unions, said the latest resolution represented one of the "building blocks to tackling piracy in the Gulf of Aden". But Mr Dawson warned of deeper issues underlying the piracy scourge, saying: "Realistically, the problem of Somali piracy will not go away while the country continues in lawless turmoil. "We must rely on vigorous policing of the seas to tackle the symptoms, even if we know there is little we can do about the cause." Somalia's troubles have been long debated by Security Council members. The country has had no functioning government since warlords overthrew the dictator Siad Barre in 1991 before turning on each other. A transitional government was formed with UN assistance in 2004. Despite the backing of Ethiopian troops, which are due to leave the country this month, its leaders have failed to protect citizens from a growing Islamist insurgency. The UN's humanitarian chief in Somalia, Mark Bowden, this week appealed for $900 million while warning that nearly half the country's estimated eight million people needed assistance. Stewart Patrick, an analyst from the Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted the difficulty in protecting one tenth of the world's merchant vessels across a vast area alongside Africa's longest coastline. "You're looking for a needle in a haystack when you're trying to prevent a single pirate attack," he said. "This leads to the conclusion that something more vigorous on the security front is needed." Some analysts advocate a naval blockade along Somalia's coast; others suggest attacking and destroying pirate bases. Amid mounting fears that Somalia is becoming home to terrorist training camps, Rosemary DiCarlo, a US envoy to the UN, said "we cannot deal with piracy in isolation" and called for a tackling of "the root causes". Council members will discuss sending a multinational force into Somalia again this month, a much-debated idea that greatly concerns UN peacekeeping officials in the absence of a political truce between warring factions. But Mr Dawson said those inside the shipping industry do not expect to see such action any time soon, adding that few of the important world powers are "likely to commit troops to any vast peacekeeping operation". His concerns were echoed by France's ambassador, Mr Ripert, who said officials were still "seeking countries to lead the operation on the ground" after months of discussions. "There are no agreements yet." jreinl@thenational.ae