The EU naval force operating off East Africa conducted its first air attack to destroy Somali pirates’ equipment on land, deploying a new tactic to protect the region’s merchant shipping.
There were no Somali casualties as a result of the assault, which took place earlier today, the European Union’s naval mission covering Somalia said on its website in an initial assessment. It’s trying to contain piracy in an area about 1 1/2 times the size of western Europe with nine warships and five patrol aircraft.
The attack marks a shift in strategy by officials who met in London in February to discuss ways of disrupting Somali piracy onshore, said Adjoa Anyimadu, a researcher at Chatham House, a London-based policy center. Since 2008, gangs linked to clans in the failed state on the eastern coast of Africa have carried out more than 800 attacks on ships, from private yachts to oil supertankers.
“This development sums up new thinking on the part of governments on how to combat this piracy issue,” she said by phone. “It’s come out of a tacit agreement among the international community that something has to be done.”
Somali piracy cost the global economy almost $7 billion last year, including $530 million spent on private armed guards, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy, a project of Colorado-based non-profit One Earth Future Foundation. The pirate groups earned about $160 million through ransom payments for vessels and crew, it estimates.
Oil Tankers Attacked
The attack was the navy’s first on a land-based target in Somalia and more will probably follow, Timo Lange, spokesman for the Northwood, U.K.-based force, said by phone. The Council of the European Union authorized attacks on Somali pirates’ equipment and supplies ashore on March 23.
“The EU Naval Force action against pirate supplies on the shoreline is merely an extension of the disruption actions carried out against pirate ships at sea,” Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, the force’s commander, said in a statement. “We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea and attack merchant shipping and dhows.”
Pirates attacked at least two oil tankers in the past week, successfully hijacking one. The Suezmax tanker Smyrni, able to haul about 1 million-barrels of crude, is now off Somalia’s coast after its owner said May 10 that pirates with guns had boarded the vessel. The tanker is the largest of its kind to be hijacked since February 2011, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.
A smaller Aframax tanker escaped from pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles off the Somali coast. The pirates fired seven RPGs and 300 bullets in that incident, according to the IMB. Pirates mounted 102 attacks worldwide last quarter, the IMB said last month. About 3,500 Somali pirates are attacking vessels off Africa’s eastern coast, the United Nations said in February.