Piracy crisis threatening world trade routes as reach of seaborne gangs spreads, say industry officials
Somali piracy is worsening by the week and governments lack the political will to tackle the crisis, which is threatening world trade routes, shipping industry officials have said.
Shippers have warned that more than 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil supply passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea and is at risk from seaborne gangs, who are able to operate ever further out to sea and for longer periods, using captured merchant vessels as motherships.
The hijacking of two oil tankers last week in the northern Indian Ocean has put the key oil transport route in the firing line.
"It is getting worse on a weekly basis," said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.
"This has been going on now for about three years. During that period of time we have seen a lack of political will to deal with the problem and contain it," said Hinchliffe, whose association represents about 80 percent of the global industry.
Pirate gangs are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, and despite successful efforts to quell attacks in the Gulf of Aden, navies have been unable to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean because of the vast distances involved.
"We have very clearly got to the stage where ships which want to trade oil and energy up through the Arabian Gulf, there is no option now to avoid pirates in the region," said Howard Snaith, marine director with INTERTANKO.
"They have the whole of the Indian Ocean pretty much pinned down," said Snaith, whose members own the majority of the world's tanker fleet.
The fight against piracy has been hampered by legal ambiguities over the appropriate venue to prosecute captured suspects. A UN envoy this month proposed special courts are set up rapidly in the Somali enclaves of Somaliland and Puntland, and in Tanzania, to try captured pirates.
Shipping industry officials said the human cost was also rising as around 800 seafarers are now held captive by Somali gangs. Pirates are using torture to force crew members to operate captured motherships.
"The industry is lobbying very hard together," Hinchliffe said.
"There is a lot of inter-government discussion going on but there is a lack of determination to make sure that the warships are correctly able to arrest and prosecute in particular, but also to have some kind of interaction, to make sure that the mothership activity is limited."