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Issue 495 -- 23rd - 29th July 2011
Somali's Pirates Cause Economic Hardship For Neighbors
By Eva Krafczyk
Berbera, Somaliland/Nairobi, Kenya, July 23, 2011 - Ship crews get nervous as soon as their vessels enter the waters around the Horn of Africa.
Hardly surprising considering nearly 600 people are currently being held by pirates operating in the area and those who have so far been lucky, fear their vessel could be next.
The actions of the crew of the Indian freighter 'Safina Aibrahimi' are typical for vessels navigating Somalia's treacherous coastal waters.
'Nobody sleeps when we are off Somalia,' says captain Osman Daud, who has noticeable dark rings under his eyes.
'We keep watch around the clock for pirates.'
The Safina Albrahimi, which is anchored in the port of Berbera in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland, has a crew of 20 merchant seamen, who sit cross-legged in the shade under a canopy as the ship is unloaded by Somali dockers.
'I don't know anymore how many times I've had pirates on board but it was definitely 20,' complains captain Daud.
However, his men have been fortunate to date, with the pirates repeatedly taking mobile phones and valuables before leaving the ship again to continue their search for more valuable booty and successful plundering elsewhere.
The electrical equipment, used cars, truck tires, rice sacks and other goods stacked in a disorganized heap on the Safina's deck are not worth the effort of maintaining control of the ship for the pirates.
An oil tanker, container ship or even a vessel with a European or American crew offering the possibility of a ransom payment are much more lucrative targets.
But Daud and his crew still live in fear. The captain maintains radio contact with the warships patrolling off the coast of Somalia and monitoring the movement of suspicious ships.
Whenever he hears of a pirate attack anywhere along his planned course, Daud plots a new one.
Omar Abokor Jama, assistant port director in Berbera, has noticed the effects of piracy on land.
'Around 30 ships and approximately 50 smaller boats dock here each month,' he estimates. 'A couple of years ago, this figure was 40 to 60 ships and 60 to 80 boats.'
The reduced income from harbor fees has had a painful impact on this small country, which is still seeking international recognition.
'Around 80 per cent of the country's income derives from the port of Berbera,' says Jama.
Camels, goats and sheep are shipped from here to the Arab Gulf states. Somaliland may have been spared the worst violent excesses of the civil war experienced by southern Somalia, but it is still desperately poor with an unemployment rate of approximately 70 per cent.
'The price of all imported goods have risen,' he notes. 'Also, where there are fewer ships in the harbors, then there is also less money to pay the officials.'
Many of the dockers have educational qualifications but can find no other work due to the rampant unemployment.
'We have to get the piracy under control,' says Jama.
Kenya is also suffering higher prices because of the higher shipping costs for all imported goods. A study by America's National Institute for Sustainable Economy has found that the insurance costs for shipping has increased forty-fold in just a few years.
The high price of oil makes it economically unviable for many ships to steer a course towards the less dangerous routes around the Horn of Africa.
There is no also no guarantee of safety no matter how far a vessel is away from the Horn of Africa. In several cases, ships were closer to India than the coast of Africa when they were attacked and plundered by Somali pirates.