The piracy busi­ness is alive and thriv­ing off the So­mali coast and deeper in the In­dian Ocean. There are no quick-fix so­lu­tions in place de­spite the fact that a huge in­ter­na­tional naval flotilla has been formed to fight the men­ace.

Southasia - - Front page - By Semu Bhatt

Pi­rates Inc.

In­dia’s counter-piracy op­er­a­tions have done very

lit­tle to keep the So­mali pi­rates at bay.

There’s a multi-mil­lion dol­lar busi­ness that boasts of us­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, has a wide reach, out­classes the best in the trade at their game, em­ploys im­pov­er­ished peo­ple, earns 20 to a hun­dred times more money than other ven­tures, has an an­nual turnover that has grown by 35 times over the last five years and whose bosses live in huge man­sions and drive fancy cars. Im­pressed? Wel­come then, to the world of Pi­rates Inc. – So­ma­lia’s only boom­ing in­dus­try.

The lack of coast­guard sur­veil­lance since 1991 when So­ma­lia slid into chaos, has ren­dered its vast coast­line vul­ner­a­ble to il­le­gal pil­lag­ing of stocks and dump­ing of toxic wastes by for­eign ves­sels. De­prived of their liveli­hood and con­fronted with the health haz­ards of toxic wastes, af­fected fish­er­men groups de­cided to pro­tect their shore­line from pil­lagers and pol­luters. From poor fish­er­men try­ing to safe­guard the means of their liveli­hood to men­ac­ing buc­ca­neers with an oper­a­tional spread of ap­prox­i­mately 2.9 mil­lion square nau­ti­cal miles, pi­rates have shown en­ter­pris­ing bril­liance in con­vert­ing a vol­un­tary coast guard­ing phe­nom­e­non into a suc­cess­ful busi­ness en­ter­prise.

Op­er­at­ing as far as 1,000-1,200 nau­ti­cal miles off the So­mali coast in an area stretch­ing from the Horn of Africa to the Mal­dives is­lands, the So­mali pi­rates hi­jacked 49 ships in 2010, with an av­er­age ran­som per ship touch­ing $5.4 mil­lion in the same year – 36 times more than the 2006 av­er­age of $150,000. Pi­rates keep 30% of these ran­som spoils; which means, even the low­est on the rung make nearly 20 times more money in a sin­gle hi­jack­ing than So­ma­lia’s per capita in­come of $600.

The two decades long con­flict has left the So­mali econ­omy in tat­ters. In a coun­try where more than half the pop­u­la­tion is liv­ing on less than $1 a day and no won­der that the ex­trav­a­gant life­styles of pi­rates have made them icons for young chil­dren who are strug­gling to free them­selves from the clutches of penury. While the ran- som money has had a spillover ef­fect on the lo­cal econ­omy through a mul­ti­tude of piracy-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties, the piracy busi­ness has also opened up to in­clude lo­cals who can be­come part­ners by lend­ing money or weapons for the piracy op­er­a­tions.

Given that the Gulf of Aden is one of the world’s most im­por­tant Sea Lines of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion (SLOC), navies from about 30 coun­tries are pa­trolling the wa­ters off the So­mali coast. How­ever, the large in­ter­na­tional naval pres­ence has not de­terred the pi­rates. They have be­gun to use heavy arms, hi-tech tech­nol­ogy and have cap­tured ships to use as mother ves­sels – and ven­ture deeper into the In­dian Ocean where the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing tracked by navies is lesser than in the nar­row Gulf of Aden. Pi­rates only need 15 to twenty min­utes to board a ship - too lit­tle time for any naval ves­sel in the vicin­ity to re­act to a SOS. Once hi­jacked, the ship is taken to one of the pi­rate dens and an­chored till the pay­off comes through.

Piracy off the coast of So­ma­lia re-

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