The international community must formulate a plan to ensure that piracy does not interrupt the supply of food aid to war-torn Somalia, a consultant with Chatham House, an international think-tank, has said.
"In the next three months, it is of paramount importance that a replacement for Canada is found to escort WFP [World Food Programme] ships," Roger Middleton, the Africa Programme consultant, stated in a paper issued on 2 October. "If there is no permanent solution to the issue of escorting WFP ships, then Somalis will starve and the already severe problems in the region are likely to get worse."
Noting that piracy off the coast had "more than doubled" in 2008, Middleton said it was making aid deliveries to drought-stricken Somalia "ever more difficult and costly".
Somalia's self-declared autonomous region of Puntland seemed to be the base for most pirates. "Puntland is one of the poorest areas of Somalia, so the financial attraction of piracy is strong. Somalia's fishing industry has collapsed in the last 15 years and its waters are being heavily fished by European, Asian and African ships."
Puntland foreign relations minister Ali Abdi Aware, however, said the payment of ransoms to pirates was complicating efforts to fight piracy. He denied claims that some Puntland officials were involved.
"We are doing everything we can ... but the money being paid to them is emboldening the pirates and undermining the authorities," he told IRIN. "Every time they get money they use some of it to buy more and more equipment to the point that they are better equipped than our coastguard."
Chatham House urged the international community to organise shipping into a safe lane to be patrolled by the Maritime Security Patrol Area, which was established in August by the coalition naval forces in the Gulf of Aden; provide a coastguard to be run by the UN or the African Union and establish a large naval presence in the area.
At least 60 ships have been attacked off the Somali coast since the beginning of 2008; four in the last week of August alone. Some 14 ships from various countries are estimated to be held around the coast of Puntland.
"It is the payment of massive ransoms that provides the motivation," Middleton said. "A few years ago ransoms were in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. So far in 2008 they have hovered between half-a-million and $2 million, although recent reports indicate that demands have again shot up ..."
While pirates kept most of the funds, a significant amount was passed on to "important locals", some of whom were involved in the ongoing war in the country.
"Somalia is one of the most dangerous and violent places in the world," the paper stated. "Arms are freely available throughout the country and there are almost daily reports of explosions, murders, skirmishes, battles and kidnappings across the country."
Aware said they had mounted a campaign to combat the pirates. "Pressure has been brought to bear on them using traditional elders and religious leaders to condemn their activities," he said.
"This already is having a positive result. After intense pressure, pirates who were holding a number of ships in the coastal town of Eyl were forced to leave and are now on the seas.” Eyl is one of two towns in Puntland used by pirates as a base.