Somalia Pirates' Success Rate Rises, Stunting East Africa Economies

The international naval presence off the coast of Somalia is failing to reduce the success rate of pirates whose attacks on commercial ships are stunting the economies of East Africa, the United Nations said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported to the Security Council that 37 of 164 attacks on ships operating off the coast of Somalia succeeded in the first nine months of this year. That 22.6 percent rate of successful hijackings compares with 17.1 percent, of 193 attempts, for the same period in 2009.

“Piracy in the region has had an immense impact on the economies of East Africa and also the wider world,” Ban said in his report. “International trade routes are threatened and goods in the region as well as Somalia are becoming more expensive. This is made worst by the bleak state of the global economy.”

The pirates concentrate on the Gulf of Aden, a chokepoint leading to the Suez Canal that is used by 30,000 ships a year carrying about one-tenth of world trade. Attacks have spread to the Indian Ocean, as much as 1,000 miles from shore.

The rate of successful hijackings increased even with the presence of warships from the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and 25 other nations including the U.S., China, India, Iran and Japan. Commercial ships are using defensive measures such as netting, wire, electric fences and fire hoses to prevent boarding.

More Sophisticated Weapons

Ban said the pirates have countered with more sophisticated weaponry and use of “action groups” consisting of a large command boat towing attack skiffs.

“I am afraid that the problem will not only be with us for a long time to come, but also has the potential to become worse unless both Somalis and the international community address its root causes,” Ban said. “There is an urgent need to combine vital sea-based and judicial counter-piracy initiatives.”

Somalia hasn’t had a functioning central administration since the ouster of former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Most of southern and central Somalia is under the control of insurgents led by the Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab, which has pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda.

The Transitional Federal Government, which controls only portions of Mogadishu and whose mandate expires in August 2011, is emerging from a political crisis following the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke. Mohamed Abdullahi was approved as prime minister by Somalia’s parliament on Oct. 31 after his taking of the office was delayed by a dispute over whether the vote would be secret.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bill Varner at the United Nations at wvarner@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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