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Despite Increased International Pressure, Pirate Attacks Continue in the Gulf of Aden

Published Jan 18, 2011 2:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

NATO, British, U.S. and Russian Warships not slowing down coordinated attacks.

According to officials, a Philippine-operated bulk carrier with 21 crew members was hijacked this morning by armed pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden. Noel Choong of the Malaysia-based International Maritime Bureau stated that the ship, flying a Panamanian flag, had been sailing from the Middle East to Asia when it was attacked.

Just days before two other ships were attacked in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia on Friday. Pirates attempted to board a World Food Program ship off of Mogadishu. The captain of the boat outmaneuvered the pirates and managed to escape. However, a Greek chemical tanker on its way from Europe to Southeast Asia was seized when armed pirates in speedboats attacked and boarded the ship with 20 crew members.

The waters off the coast of Somalia have become increasingly dangerous. With no functioning government since 1991, Somalia has been impoverished due to decades of conflict. Piracy has become very lucrative bringing in millions of dollars to criminals and gangs in the area. The latest hijacking brought the total number of attacks off the coast of Africa to 79 this year. Twenty-nine of these attacks resulted in hijacking and 11 of these ships and their 200 plus crew members still remain in the hands of pirates.

The Ukrainian MV Faina and its 20 crew members have been held by pirates for more than two weeks. The ship, carrying 33 tanks and other heavy weapons and ammunition, has drawn great international concern due to its dangerous cargo. Currently six U.S. naval warships along with military aircraft surround the vessel off the central cost of Somalia. The pirates originally demanded a $20 million US dollar ransom and threatened to blow up the ship, its crew members, and themselves if it wasn't paid by Tuesday. Pirate spokesman, Sugule Ali, states that the threat and deadline have now been withdrawn and the ransom has been reportedly reduced to $8 million US dollars with more negotiations underway.

The Faina has drawn international concern and response. NATO has sent seven ships from the U.S., Germany, Italy, Greece, Britain, and Turkey to the Gulf of Aden where the Faina is currently being surrounded by U.S. warships. The European Union is also organizing and is preparing to dispatch ships to the area in December. Russia has also agreed to cooperate in the anti-piracy patrol.

Somali pirates are aware and therefore exploit the limitations of naval forces. Therefore, in addition to the international naval efforts to combat piracy, commercial shipping companies have increasing employed private security firms to provide vessels with assistance and intelligence to transit vessels through this unstable area. There are legal ramifications of private security firms if they open fire on pirate ships in international waters. For that reason, firms such as Dryad Maritime Intelligence who according to their website provide piracy, human traffic, and maritime terrorism advice, are employed to play more of an intelligence role in thwarting pirate attacks.