Saturday, January 3, 2009





January 3 2009

French forces on Friday handed over eight pirates to Somali authorities, and a new get-tough approach by foreign navies thwarted more attacks in vital shipping lanes linking Europe to Asia.

Rampant piracy off the Somalia coast has alarmed nations around the world, worried about threats to global trade, and warships have rushed to curb the hijacks, typically carried out by a handful of well-armed bandits in small speedboats.

It was the audacious seizure of a Saudi oil tanker with 2 million barrels of crude hundreds of miles at sea in November that shocked shipping firms and calls for action mushroomed.

The French frigate that captured the pirates was patrolling as part of a European Union anti-piracy naval task force under British command set up last month, the first such naval operation of its kind.

“The French navy handed over to us the eight Somali pirates they seized,” Abdullahi Said Samatar, Puntland’s security minister, told Reuters. “We urge all other countries to fight pirates and then hand them into Puntland.”

Even though the semi-autonomous region of Puntland has run its affairs for years with relative independence from the chaotic south of Somalia, it has became a base for pirates earning millions of dollars in ransoms.

While some analysts say Puntland officials are complicit in the attacks, authorities in the poor, arid region deny any involvement and say 96 pirates are now in jail there.

“There is a diplomatic agreement whereby the Somali authorities are committed to prosecuting and punishing (pirates),” said Christophe Prazuck, a spokesman for the French armed forces.

Diplomats say trying pirates abroad is seen as problematic by some nations as they may face the prospect of extraditing the guilty to Somalia, where piracy carries the death penalty.

France has been particularly active in the fight against pirates and has arrested 29 in four operations since last April, some of whom are in France awaiting trial.

EU warships

Besides the EU warships, the US, China, India, Malaysia, Turkey and Russia have frigates in the waters off Somalia, and Japan is considering following suit.

The French navy nabbed the gunmen after it received a distress signal on Thursday from the Panamanian-registered cargo ship S. Venus that was being pursued by the bandits.

“Resistance was impossible when faced by a well-armed warship,” Prazuck told LCI television, adding they had found a rocket launcher, rifles and boarding ladders on the pirate’s vessel.
Greece’s merchant marine ministry said that EU forces had foiled an attack on a Greek-flagged oil tanker on Friday.

The Kriti Episkopi, with 29 crew, was en route to Greece from Iran when it issued a distress signal as pirates attempted to board the vessel, the ministry said.