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21 May 2024

Arabs urged to step up fight against pirates

By Shashank Shekhar

Arab countries, including the Gulf states, have been urged to join other nations in the fight and prosecution of pirates as a necessary measure to put an end to incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

The Director of International Maritime Bureau, P Mukundan, said countries had been empowered to prosecute pirates. Kenya has already announced it is taking steps to prosecute Somali pirates arrested in East African waters.

"As per the UN resolution 1851, these pirates can be prosecuted by any country. All the Arab countries, including Egypt and the Gulf states, should play a responsible role to control piracy in the region," said Mukundan. "Egypt, particularly, will suffer if its revenues from ships plying through the Suez canal dry up."

Mukundan said the Gulf countries could help by "providing naval assets to control piracy" and "by prosecuting the pirates".

The arrival of Chinese and Iranian warships in the Gulf of Aden has boosted the anti-piracy operations, Mukundan said. "The situation has improved considerably in the past few months. More and more mother ships used by Somali pirates to launch boats are being attacked."

While China recently announced it is sending three naval ships to combat incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Iran has said it will send one vessel. Mukundan termed the recent act of Indian Navy wherein it captured several pirates and turned them over to Yemeni authorities as "fantastic".

The difference in the cost of plying through the Cape of Good Hope and the Gulf of Aden has come down in recent months, Mukundan said, thwarting earlier media reports. "Charter rates have come down in recent months. So if a ship takes a longer route through the Cape of Good Hope the voyage costs are not as high as they were a few months earlier," he said.

Additional costs come into the picture when ships ply through the Gulf of Aden as this includes higher insurance rates and fees charged by Egypt to let ships pass through the Suez canal.

"The difference in costs incurred by shipping companies in taking these two different routes has come down substantially and more and more ships are plying through the Cape of Good Hope," Mukundan said.

According to a recent estimate, plying from the Gulf to Rotterdam via the Suez Canal takes a ship 75 days and costs $3.75 million (Dh13.77m). The total distance that the ship traverses is 6,434 nautical miles. On the other hand, a vessel travelling from the Gulf via the Cape of Good Hope to Rotterdam spends 95 days on the seas, travels 11,169 nautical miles and spends $4.75m on the voyage.

Statements supporting Mukundan have come recently from shipping companies. Odfjell SE, a Norwegian company with 100 chemical tankers, says it is now diverting all its vessels around Africa at an extra cost of $30,000 a day. The company, however, will save on the $200,000 fee the Egyptian government charges to use the Suez Canal. "We're hoping if other companies join us, we can put enough pressure on the Egyptian and other governments to solve this problem," the company's Chief Operating Officer Jan Hammer said recently.

Officially about 80 vessels were captured in the waters of Somalia in 2008. But security analysts say the real toll is much more. Retired Major-General Syed Ali Hamid, board member, Kestral Defence Consultancy Services, in Pakistan recently said the figure is understated by as much as 2,000 per cent.

The Sirius Star, a Saudi-Arabian owned supertanker hijacked by pirates two months ago was released on Friday after a ransom of $3m was reportedly paid. It was the first VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) to be hijacked by pirates and it was carrying two million barrels of crude oil, worth more than $100m.

Two ships flagged in the GCC countries have also been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. Somalian pirates hijacked a fully-laden Saudi super-tanker carrying crude worth about $100m off Kenya recently. A UAE flagged vessel was captured earlier last year.