Monday, 11 July 2011
The island of Socotra: now a pirate base?
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."