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Combating Somali pirates at the seas

10:32, November 20, 2009

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By Li Hong, People's Daily Online

Two pieces of news coming out of the Horn of Africa have caught people's attention. On Tuesday, the 36 crew members of Spanish tuna fishing ship Alakrana, captured by Somali pirates on October 2, has regained their freedom, after Madrid reportedly paid US$3.3 million ransom. And, a day ago, American-flagged ship Maersk Alabama, which was attacked by pirates in April 2009, was engaged in a second skirmish with the pirates. This time, the security team on the ship opened fire and thwarted the pirates' attempt to board it.

Paying ransom, or employing security and letting guns talk, are two ways to tackle with the rising lawlessness and deteriorating situation along Somali's 3,600-km coast line. The first obviously feeds the demands of the pirates, buoying them to even more audacious pirating moves on the high seas. The second, if widely copied, will surely weaponise civilian cruise and cargo ships and make confrontation and bloodshed harder to avoid.

The government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero might face critics' gripes for emboldening pirates by meeting their demands, but, it is Madrid's responsibility to bring its nationals back home safe. After six weeks of ordeal at the hands of the bandits, the 36 crew members are returning to their beloved ones, who are finally relieved at their release.

Pirate attacks have spiked in recent years. Incomplete statistics show they have attempted more than 310 attacks so far in 2009, and have taken more than 390 people hostages, including 25 Chinese sailors whose trawler De Xin Hai was captured in October about 300 nautical miles away from the coast. There hasn't any news about whereabouts and status of the 25 hostages. Attacks have increased in recent weeks as the monsoon season subsided, and pirates in that area are expanding their reach deep into the Indian Ocean.

Lack of an effective central government in Somali and rising tribal strife in the country has made the situation more elusive. Given that the average ransom per vessel amounts to about $2 million, it is hardly surprising the port of Eyl on the coast of the Indian Ocean, one of the major pirate lairs in the world, has witnessed a veritable "business boom", with pirates being feted by many locals as "heroes".

As the pirates are making use of high-tech means including satellite phones and global positioning systems to navigate and communicate, quality fiber-glass fast boats to cruise and chase a prey, and fire AK-47 salvos to stop and board ships, it is necessary for the international community to team up and cooperate in implementing anti-pirating efforts.

The European Union has set up a so-called "safe lane" offshore Somali that its gunboats carry regular patrols on the dangerous waterway, and an international flotilla of warships are building up there. However, world powers including the United States, Russia, European Union and China must ally to tackle the pirates plaguing Somalia's lawless coast.

And, regional navies and coast guard squads in the region could be encouraged to pool resources so as to implement better coordinated anti-piracy patrols. Countries in the vicinity including Kenya, Tanzania and other navies could form an alliance to do the job, while their activities are assisted by the trading giant countries. Meanwhile, international community and the United Nations have a duty to bring law and order back to the war-scarred East African state.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

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