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Monday, February 16, 2015

Puntland ~ Horn of Africa ..... and ... is Piracy now at Bay ?????

A couple of years ago, the area  located in Arabian sea between Yemen on South coast of Arabian Peninsula and Somalia in the Horn of Africa were regularly in news as being  the hotbed of criminal activities. This  very important shipping route between the Mediterranean sea and the Arabian sea with tens of thousands of ship crossing the gulf annually literally became the ‘Pirate alley’.   But if one thinks, that such incidents occur only in that bay with the involvement of Somalis alone, then one is sadly mistaken.  Besides the Gulf of Aden, there reportedly had been incidents of piracy at many other places. 

I  had earlier circulated something on Piracy -  robbery committed at sea. The English term pirate is derived from latin pirata  - an attempt to find luck on sea.  Kadal Kollaiar (Sea pirates) would often be portrayed in old movies as people with masks, paints all over body with crude arms, jumping into boats, killing people on board and usurping all wealth that was carried as merchandise.  Maritime piracy, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, consists of any criminal acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or aircraft that is directed on the high seas against another ship, aircraft, or against persons or property on board a ship or aircraft. Pirates have been around as long as people have used the oceans as trade routes.

Arising out of Piracy of Puntland, the Indian market’s response was not  uniform – some Insurers hiked their rates; some  imposed additional conditions – some practical and some impractical – whilst some remained mute spectators to the occurrences.  If you have observed, there has been no news recently about Piracy …… yes, because, as Daily Mail reports - not one hijacking has taken place in last two years in the Indian Ocean after 126 pirates were jailed.  

A recent post reveals that - Sailors navigating the coast of East Africa no longer have to fear an ordeal like that of Kent couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who were captured by Somali pirates, thanks to British efforts to put hijackers behind bars. Prosecutors have successfully jailed 126 pirates and there have been no hijackings off the Horn of Africa in the last 24 months, new figures reveal. Hijackings similar to the experience of the Chandlers and the hijacking of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama which inspired the blockbuster film Captain Phillips, are a thing of the past due to the success of a scheme to prosecute the pirates on remote islands in the Indian Ocean.

Lawyers from the Crown Prosecution Service used to dealing with serious crime in towns across Britain have been helping their counterparts in the Seychelles deal with the new work load. The group of Islands, popular with holidaymakers, is 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa and previously had only a dozen lawyers, many of whom were part-time. But scores of pirates have now been jailed - first in a specially built facility in the Seychelles and then transferred to UN monitored facilities in Somaliland and Puntland,  provinces of Somalia. The pirates have also been offered education, most of whom 'grab it with both hands', according to Charles Brown, a prosecutor who returned to Britain in March after two-and-a-half years as 'State Counsel'.

'Generally those captured have had no other means of earning a livelihood and now they are being offered an education and the chance to learn English and it's unlikely they will be back in an open skiff on the Indian Ocean,' he added. Most of the pirates have now been repatriated to prisons mentored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Hargeisa in Somaliland and Garowe, Puntland, where they will serve out their sentences, which range from two to 24 years.  Britain donated £2.58million to the UNODC Maritime Crime Programme for the Horn of Africa in 2013 and another £1million in 2014, most of which has gone towards the new prison in Hargeisa, and the refurbishment in Garowe.

A move by the Somali government to pardon the pirates was headed off after pressure from the UN and, unusually for Somalia, the better off pirates have been unable to pay substitutes to serve their sentences. The Somali coast contains one of the world's busiest shipping lanes but has suffered regular attacks by pirates since 2005, peaking at 52 in 2009, when pirates were taking in an estimated $100m (£650,000) a year in ransoms.

In October that year, Paul and Rachel Chandler were sailing around the world and were captured by Somali pirates just 90 miles off the Seychelles. In the space of just a few minutes on the Indian Ocean, their trip of a lifetime – a long-planned escape from the petty suburban pressures of the Home Counties – became a journey that really did change everything. Transported to a series of makeshift encampments in the baking heat of the Somali bush, the Chandlers were whipped, beaten, separated from each other and from everything they knew.  In Jan 2012,  an Australian reconnaissance aircraft located and photographed a dhow towing two skiffs which they suspected were being operated by pirates.  An intelligence analyst identified the dhow from a database of known and suspected pirate vessels as the Yemini 18. The following day a tanker called the Happy Bird was approached by two skiffs travelling at speed around 150 nautical miles southeast of Oman. British warship, the Fort Victoria,  responding to the call was able to locate and board the Yemini 18 and 13 suspected pirates were detained.  With the help of British prosecutors, all the men were convicted of operating a pirate ship, and lying in wait to attack peaceful seafarers, but acquitted of attacking the Happy Bird because the court could not be sure that they were responsible. Eight of the accused were sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, three aged between 16 and 18 were sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and one, aged 12, was conditionally discharged. Another youth was acquitted because he was under the age of criminal responsibility.

Somehow , Paul and Rachel survived 13 months in captivity before their eventual release in November 2010. Western nations responded by sending multinational naval forces to conduct patrols in order to secure a safe corridor for shipping, which included a combined EU unit called Operation Atalanta.  As piracy began to affect fishing and tourism in the Seychelles in 2010, British prosecutors were invited to the islands to begin a scheme, funded by the Foreign Office and the United Nations.  The Seychelles project comes to an end in March 2015 when British prosecutors leave the islands and local prosecutors take over the job themselves.

The last, unsuccessful, pirate attack off the Somali coast took place exactly a year ago on February 13 2014, although Somali pirates are still holding 30 hostages. By comparison, however, four years ago they were holding 736 hostages and 32 ships. The EU Naval Force, known as NavFor had its mandate extended until December 2016 and plans to help other countries in the region strengthen their own maritime capabilities. A spokesman said that 'whilst Somali piracy has reduced significantly, the threat from piracy still remains'.

Very interesting – sailors and those involved in the trade would feel relieved indeed.
With regards – S. Sampathkumar
16th Feb 2015.

Article excerpted from DailyMail.co.uk.

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