Wednesday, December 17, 2008




Somali pirates seized four ships in the Gulf of Aden on the same day the United Nations Security Council authorised countries to pursue the gunmen on land.

A Kenyan maritime group said pirates hijacked an Indonesian tugboat, a Turkish cargo ship, a Chinese fishing vessel and a yacht on Tuesday, all in one the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia this year has earned gunmen millions of dollars in ransom, hiked shipping insurance costs and sent foreign navies rushing to patrol shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa nation.

The seizures have prompted some of the world's biggest shipping firms to switch routes from the Suez Canal and send cargo vessels around southern Africa instead -- which could push up the cost of commodities and manufactured goods.

While warships from several nations are patrolling the seas off Somalia and escorting ships, analysts say the problem must be tackled on land as well for any lasting solution.

The resolution passed by the 15-nation Security Council on Tuesday said states "may undertake all necessary measures in Somali, including in its airspace" to stop the pirates.

Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers Assistance programme said on Wednesday that Chinese fishing vessel Zhenhua-4 with 30 Chinese crew and a yacht with two on board had been seized off Yemen a day earlier.

An Indonesian tugboat used by French oil company Total and a 100-metre (330-ft) cargo ship belonging to an Istanbul-based shipping company were also taken on Tuesday.

‘We will sink them’

The weak Somalian government says it does not have the resources to tackle the buccaneers. The administration controls only the capital Mogadishu and the seat of parliament Baidoa, while pirates are mostly based in the northern Puntland region.

Authorities in the semi-autonomous region welcomed the Security Council decision to take the battle onto land.

"We, Puntland authority, have agreed to support this resolution. And we want our security forces to work with the U.N. forces because we are the main victims of piracy," Abdulqadir Muse Yusuf, Puntland's assistant minister for fisheries, told Reuters.

Mwangura said 19 ships and nearly 400 crew were being held in pirate hideouts along the Somali coast, including a Saudi supertanker with 2 million barrels of oil and a Ukrainian cargo ship with 33 tanks.

Iran called for tougher action on Tuesday, saying five of its oil tankers had been attacked by pirates this year and the cost of crude may rise if strategic sealanes went unprotected.

China, a permanent member of the Security Council, is reported to be seriously considering sending naval ships to the region to escort vessels.

Somalia's neighbour Kenya also began extensive air and sea patrols this week. "We are daring them to try any attacks on Kenyan waters and we will sink them," Chief of General Staff Jeremiah Kianga said on Monday.