Monday, 11 July 2011

The island of Socotra: now a pirate base?

Despite the huge international naval presence in the region meant to fight the menace of piracy, credible reports have emerged saying that the Yemeni controlled island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa is being used as a refuelling and restocking hub for Somali pirates. "Socotra has been used for months if not longer," says Mr Michael Frodl, a maritime risk consultant and adviser to Lloyd's underwriters, citing intelligence reports.

A Yemeni official said recently that about twenty pirates had been arrested from a commercial vessel- presumably supplying the pirate bases on Socotra- and another sixteen on the island. Supplies, including fuel, arms and food, are said to be regularly brought in on dhows from the Yemeni mainland near Al Mukalla, a port on the southern Yemeni coast. Security experts say that Socotra may well be a transit point for arms bound for the Somali mainland as well.

Analysts fear that the political and military chaos in Yemen will only increase the pirate presence on the islands- Socotra is part of a group of four islands that belong to Yemen. Although the country has a military presence there, observers believe that the pirates have bought the Yemenis off.

"It (Socotra) is perhaps the most important refuelling hub for hijacked merchant vessels used as mother ships, especially those operating between the Gulf of Aden and India's western waters, mainly off Oman and increasingly closer to the Strait of Hormuz," Frodl adds. "A hijacked merchant vessel, unlike a hijacked dhow, has a voracious thirst for fuel and needs a very well stocked refuelling station."

Peter Pham of the US 'Atlantic Council' agrees. "A credible amount of evidence has emerged in recent years that Somali pirates have certainly taken advantage of jurisdictional issues to operate in and out of the Socotra archipelago with at least the tacit connivance of at least some Yemeni authorities," adding that Socotra has been "a favourite stomping ground for pirates for centuries as both Marco Polo and the great 14th century Islamic scholar and traveller Ibn Battuta attest."

Meanwhile, International Maritime Bureau director Pottengal Mukundan has said that if it is true that pirates are using Socotra, then "it is an extremely disturbing development requiring urgent investigation."



  1. Sounds like a lot of speculation and little more. Socotra and its inhabitants are very peaceful, and it is also a world heritage nature reserve. There are regular tours for Western tourists there. Funny how the first report you hear of piracy there is from people how have not been there and who just look at a map and speculate. If I met a Somali pirate on Socotra, I would apologize to him for the toxic dumping and illegal fishing the world community has been practicing in Somali for the past 2 decades, then get on with the nice eco tour.

  2. I AGREE. I haven't been there but look at all the shootings in the USA. people being gunned down everywhere every day now. so a few pirates show up