Somalia appeals for coastguard to curb piracy

May 19, 2009

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Somali officials appealed for international help to establish a properly equipped coastguard, saying it was the key to eradicating rampant piracy off its coast.

Deputy Prime Minister Abdirahman Aden Ibbi said in a speech to an international conference that foreign naval patrols alone would not wipe out pirates who are disrupting one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.
“Somalia needs a more effective coastguard to protect its sea, to protect our fishermen and to protect foreign ships against piracy because international naval operations are not enough,” he said.
“We know where they hide. We are prepared to fight. We ask the international community to help us to fight piracy,” he said in a speech read by Nur Mohamed Mohamoud, deputy director of Somalia's national security agency.
Ibbi said that with a “massive increase in patrol boats and well-trained crew,” Somalia could rid the world of the high-seas menace.
A country of seven million people, Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.
Pirate attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden jumped tenfold in the first three months of 2009 compared with last year, rising from six to 61, according to data from the International Maritime Bureau.
Ibbi said that Somalia, where the current transitional government is facing a serious challenge from Islamist insurgents, would not be able to eradicate piracy as long as it remained poor and ungoverned.
“An end to piracy can only be brought if the rule of law can be enforced and causes of piracy tackled. Piracy will continue to be a problem as long as the violence continues in Somalia,” he said.
Abdullah Said Samatar, security minister from the breakaway Somali state of Puntland which is a major piracy hub, backed the call to establish a coastguard and said he was disappointed that no help had been forthcoming.
“We are fed up. We are frustrated,” he told reporters at the conference, saying that with only two or three coastguard ships the pirates could be eliminated.
He welcomed the multinational naval task force currently patrolling the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden, but ruled out suggestions that foreign militaries could be sent to storm pirate bases onshore.
“On land, we only want local forces. Foreign forces cannot distinguish who is a fisherman or who are the pirates. They will create more problems for us,” he said.
Experts at the two-day conference in the Malaysian capital are tackling divisive issues including who should pay for anti-piracy operations, and whether crews should be armed or mercenaries hired to guard ships.
There is also a debate over what to do with pirates arrested by the navies patrolling the troubled region, and whether short-term security measures or longer-term development initiatives are the best way to curb high-seas crime.
The delegates, including maritime experts, diplomats and security officials, will adopt a statement Tuesday outlining possible solutions to eliminate the pirate menace.
Somali piracy started two decades ago with more noble goals of deterring illegal fishing and protecting the nation's resources and sovereignty at a time when the state was collapsing.
Today's pirates have morphed into a sophisticated criminal ring with international ramifications. Anti-piracy naval operations operating under US, European Union and NATO commands now patrol the region.