Thursday, 8 April 2010

Indian Govt. bans Dhows from operating in piracy hit area

"The linkages between terrorists based in Somalia and transnational organised crime is a cause of major concern globally"

The Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) has issued a Maritime Security advisory calling for mechanised sailing vessels, commonly called dhows, to ‘desist from operating in waters south or west of line joining Salalah and Male’, a directive that is meant to bar dhows from operating on the Somali coast. The move comes a few days after more than half dozen dhows with up to a hundred Indian crew were reportedly seized by pirates off Kismaayo in Southern Somalia.

MS Notice 3 of 2010 refers to the fact that many of these dhows are engaged in illegal trade. “Dhows may be engaged in carrying export-banned commodities, such as charcoal, illegal export of gems, precious metals, ivory, wildlife or wildlife derivatives and fish without license. There are also reports that Dhows may be involved in illegal human trafficking, drug smuggling and arms shipment”, the DGS notes. “These vessels are operating out of Kismaayo port of Somalia. It has to be noted that the Transitional Federal Govt. (TFG) of Somalia has declared that Kismaayo in southern Somalia is not an official port of entry to the country”. Compounding this problem is the fact that the TFG has declared a blockade of Kismaayo port that is held by Islamist rebels belonging to Al Shabaab, an organisation branded as an Al Qaeda affiliate by the US and the UK. Any vessel trading there, the DGS notes, “considerably, endangers the safety of innocent seafarers”. Dhows are easy to hijack. They have poor technical equipment and so it is often not even known that they have been taken. Worse, at around 400 tonnes each, they are often used as mother ships to attack other vessels.

About a hundred Indian sailors may have been taken hostage by Somali pirates last week after up to eight dhows were hijacked in what would be one of their biggest raids yet. This was revealed after a local shipping body in Kutch received a call from the crew of a boat that had escaped; almost all the dhows are from that State; Gujarati traders have been trading with East African and Arabian ports for centuries.

Indian Navy spokesman P.V.S. Satish told the Voice of America that Gujarati ship operators are reluctant to inform authorities that their crews have been hijacked, and that the Navy has “repeatedly warned shipping authorities, with little effect, about the dangers of mechanized dhows venturing into pirate-infested waters”. German environmental group Ecoterra says that Indian dhows export charcoal and other contraband from Somalia to Dubai, and are involved with human trafficking, drug runs and illegal weapons shipments.

The recent Indian Defence Ministry statement, long overdue, highlights the obvious security threats the illicit trade exposes the country to, besides endangering seafarer lives. In an annual report it says, "The linkages between terrorists based in Somalia and transnational organised crime is a cause of major concern globally"

Is it, really?


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