Reports emerging from Europe say that Spain wants a European Union naval taskforce to blockade three ports in Somalia that are pirate havens. It is believed that the Spanish defence minister will push for the blockade next week, and call for a tracking of ransom payments internationally.
Many media reports had suggested sometime ago that a deal to free the 36 Spanish crewmembers of the fishing vessel Alkrana could be nearing completion after the Spanish PM commented on the hijack on a visit to Poland. There had been speculation that two accused pirates were to be released by Spain in exchange for the Alkrana; this, after the pirates on board had threatened to kill all the crew on the fishing vessel. The two Somalis were captured by the Spanish navy after the Alkrana hijack and are to face trial in Spain. Spain later denied that any deal was on, saying, however, that it would be willing to transfer the two pirates to a prison in Somalia to face trial.
The last week or so has witnessed new worrying signs that Somali pirates are back in action after the SW monsoons. Not just that, but all indications are that they are now looking to up the ante in a region far beyond their expanded attack zones. In addition, there seem to be, sometimes, additional political and other dimensions to the attacks.
As an example, there are persistent reports that Al Mizan, a ship hijacked last week, may have been carrying short and medium range missiles. Although a pirate in control of the Al Mizan told the Voice of America that this was not true, media reports suggest that the ship had, in the past, been carrying arms to Somalia in contravention of the UN embargo on the country. Al Mizan has 15 Indian crew on board in a complement of 18. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme told a newswire that he believed the ship was using a fake name.
A day after the Al Mizan incident, in the longest range pirate attack ever, a Hong Kong Registered crude oil tanker was fired at a thousand miles from the Somali coast and 400 miles NE of Seychelles. The 330 metre, 160,000 tonne BV Lion caught fire briefly but evaded capture; the long range nature of the attack sent shockwaves throughout the industry, showing once again that the pirate's logistical, seamanship and navigational skills extended far beyond the Somali coast. The EU Naval force Navfor, while confirming the attack, is obviously not in a position to patrol thousands of square miles of the Indian Ocean. "This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever," EU Navfor said in a statement. Pirate attacks continued unabated elsewhere in the region: 12 in the last month alone. Up to a dozen vessels and 200 crew are said to be held by the pirates presently.
Meanwhile, the figures for casualties on land in Somalia have been rising as well. The country has suffered 18 years of civil war and hardline Islamist insurgents linked to Al Qaeda are now fighting President Ahmed's U.N. backed government. In the last two years alone, a reported 19,000 civilians have been killed and a million and a half made homeless.
A blockade, in fact, seems to be the only solution. That, and finding a solution to the civil war within Somalia.