Mideast task force needed to fight Somali piracy, says expert

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A naval task force formed mainly of Middle Eastern states is required to fight piracy off the Somali coast, says a prominent UK-based academic.

Peter Lehr, a lecturer in terrorism studies at the University of St Andrews, emphasized the need for an “enduring process and an enduring institution” to deploy naval ships and smaller coastguard vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

Lehr, who is currently writing a book on the history of piracy, told Al Arabiya that the countries that should join such a force include Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

“Saudi Arabia should probably be [the leader of such a taskforce], because they have the biggest navy in this area,” said Lehr.

Countries on the East coast of Africa do not have sufficient capabilities to fight piracy, he added.

“Nearly all the way down to South Africa, you have almost no state with naval assets. South Africa’s the only one, but they are too far away and not interested in the Middle East,” he said.

Suspected pirates arrested by the US navy in the Gulf of Aden
Suspected pirates arrested by the US navy in the Gulf of Aden

Naval patrols by European Union member states, Japan, South Korea and Russia, among others, have helped decrease piracy incidents in recent years, according to the expert.

But Middle Eastern countries should now step in, said Lehr.

“What they already have is basically [foreign task forces] doing their job,” said Lehr, noting that rampant piracy would affect lucrative oil exports from countries in the surrounding Middle East region.

“What keeps them off at the moment is just international patrolling. If you take this deterrent factor of warships away, you’re back to square one,” he said.

A Saudi foreign ministry spokesperson was not available for comment about the proposed initiative.

Other viable solutions for ending pirate attacks around Somalia include securing the shorelines and stopping “the amateur pirates and convincing them to go back fishing,” according to Lehr.

Last week 70 countries, including Gulf states, the U.S., Pakistan, India, and several EU countries gave $350 million to Somalia’s fragile government to help combat piracy, according to UAE-based daily Gulf News.

“We call on all parties concerned to help build a viable Somali state and strengthen their hands in fighting the menace inland,” said Fares Al Mazroui, Assistant Secretary of Military Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the conference, according to Gulf News.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Lehr, commenting on last week’s initiative. “[But] $350 million is not that much, in the big picture.”

Lehr explained that the problem piracy in the Gulf of Aden, which is situated between Somalia and Yemen, has roots going back to 1991, when the government of Somalia’s former president Siad Barre collapsed.

cargo ship file photo reuters
cargo ship file photo reuters

“It is said that up to 200,000 fishermen lost their jobs and that the Somali militia took over the fishing fleets so they had to look for something else to do, to make their minor skills worth their while and put food on the table,” he said, adding that many trawlers were suddenly able to intrude into Somali waters due to lawlessness in the country.

Despite ever-increasing ransoms demanded by Somali pirates, attacks on ships have been falling off. A reported 75 attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia in 2012, down from more than 200 in 2011, according to the UK-based Economist magazine.

Lehr believes that piracy is decreasing because of increased navy patrols in the area. However, he believes that it is possible that many pirate leaders in the region are “laying low and will wait until the western fleets are steaming off.”

Lehr said that the strategy of starting initiatives on the Somalia mainland rather than its coast targets the root of the problem.

“Piracy is a land-based problem because this is where the pirates live. You have to get your house in order first, then everything else can fall in place sooner or later,” he said.

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