Regardless the poverty, lawlessness, chaos and desperation dominating Somalia, a highly organized, lucrative, ransom-driven business, piracy, has been formed, imposing its threats on one of the world’s main marine routes. Over last year, more than 25 ships were hijacked and in many cases, they were paid million-dollar ransoms to release them. The juicy payoffs have attracted gunmen from across Somalia, and the pirates are thought to number in the thousands, augmenting the economic and political drawbacks over the region
The question raised; are Somali pirates that powerful that neither the United Nation nor the U.S forces could seize them? It is hard to imagine that the U.S. air force, which can sniff out hideouts and target alleged Al-Qaeda suspects in residential neighbourhoods and craggy mountains, does not have the means to monitor what is taking place along Somalia’s maritime borders. In addition to the communications and military technology, it has forces on the ground in a permanent base in Djibouti not far from a French military base. It is difficult to believe that those forces with their advanced weaponry and trained in the arts of rapid intervention cannot take on a few hundred poorly equipped and trained pirate militias, as they alleged.
There is also something difficult to believe in the train of events. Suddenly, gangs of pirates have evolved into a standing army with tactics, strategies and plans of offence. From isolated reports of the capture of some small ships of varying ownership, we suddenly have the hijacking of a Ukrainian vessel bearing heavy arms and, more recently, the hijacking of gargantuan oil tanker!
Are we to believe that those pirates have suddenly developed all that organization and combat skills? It is not more rational, in light of previous experience, to believe that certain powers have plans to establish control over the area and that magnifying the “piracy threat” is one of the means towards this end.
On the other hand, Israel’s Eilate Ashkelon Pipeline project is back to reality after it was halted due to the 1973 Egypt-Israel war. It serves as a land bridge for transporting crude oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and vice versa. In addition, it also gives infrastructure services for liquefied petroleum gas, fuel oil, distillates and coal.
Consequently, after the piracy threats, Israel guarantees the success of its pipeline since more than one of the oil companies took the decision to avoid cruising through the Suez Canal to keep away from the piracy threats.
Moreover, Israel is also negotiating to perform the Dead Sea-Red Sea canal project, which is supposed to be built from Gulf of Eilat to the Dead Sea, representing another option or as an alternative to the Suez Canal. The project, which must be first financially viable, is scheduled to be completed by 2020.
On the other hand, shipping companies are considering changing routes via South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, Due to the hazards of sailing through the Gulf of Eden, which will mean Egypt loses a vital source of income.
The Suez Canal, the gateway to the Arabian Sea and linking Asia to Europe and often used by oil shipping vessels, is considered the third major source for foreign currency following tourism and remittance from Egyptians working abroad.
Analysts say the piracy will affect revenues from Egypt’s Suez Canal, a big earner for the country and a strategic waterway in world commerce. Several shipping companies have said they will reroute their ships past South Africa.
Mohamed Abdel Wahab, the Suez Canal Spokesman, told the state-run Al-Ahram that the navigation movement has not been affected, until now, with the Somali piracy. The canal has not received any official notification from shipping companies canceling their scheduled trips through the Canal.
The Suez Canal traffic is expected to be negatively affected as vessels seek alternative routes. This means that its revenues are more likely to decrease. It is worth mentioning that the Suez Canal’s revenues contribute with 3.3 percent of gross domestic product in fiscal year 2007/2008.
Norway’s Frontline, one of the world’s biggest oil tanker owners ferrying much of the Middle East’s crude oil exports to world markets, is “definitely considering” instructing its fleet to avoid the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal because of piracy, its Chief Executive Officer told Reuters.
“We have not done it yet. We are definitely considering it. It is possible,” said Martin Jensen. “Of course, like many in the industry, we are instructing all our ships to call as close to Yemen and as far from Somalia as possible,” highlighted Jensen, adding he was concerned that Somali pirates were attacking deep in international waters.
“Arab countries should form a naval force to fight rampant piracy off Somalia’s coast”, said Amr Moussa, the Head of the Arab League during an emergency meeting attended by Representatives of Arab Red Sea states.
“This force could work with other powers in the region to protect security,” highlighted Moussa, referring to US and NATO ships that have been patrolling the increasingly dangerous waters near Somalia.
Representatives of the six Arab countries, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Jordan and a representative from Somalia’s transitional government blamed political turmoil in Somalia for the brazen pirates, who hijacked a fully loaded Saudi oil tanker with a $100-million cargo and a crew of 25 on Nov. 15, last year.
The pirates, who have hijacked more than 90 vessels last year, had originally demanded $25 million for the release of the Sirius Star and its crew, insisting that the ransom be paid within the 10 days. Then, the demand was later dropped to $12 million.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his quarterly report to the U.N Security Council in last November that pirates had earned up to $30 million in ransoms this year. The Security Council has also adopted a British-proposed resolution on tougher sanctions against Somalia over the country’s failure to prevent a surge in sea piracy.
The piracy, the Israeli canal and the Eilate Pipline all these threats could create a more vital threat to the future of the Suez Canal.Download