Somali Pirate Attacks On Decline
HOBYO [RBC Radi] Somalia — The empty whiskey bottles and overturned, sand-filled skiffs that litter this once-bustling shoreline are signs that the heyday of Somali piracy may be over. Most of the prostitutes are gone, the luxury cars repossessed. Pirates talk more about catching lobsters than seizing cargo ships.
Armed guards aboard cargo ships and an international naval armada complete with aircraft that carry out onshore raids have put a huge dent in Somali piracy and might even spell the end of the scourge. One piracy expert said it’s too early to declare victory. But the numbers are startling: In 2010, pirates seized 47 vessels. This year they’ve taken only five.
“There’s nothing to do here these days. The hopes for a revitalized market are not high,” said a pirate in the former pirate haven of Hobyo who gave his name as Hassan Abdi, a high school graduate who taught English in private school before turning to piracy in 2009.
Faduma Ali, a prostitute in the inland town of Galkayo that became a pirate haven, longs for the days when her pirate customers had money. As she smoked a hookah in a hot, airless room last week, she sneered as she answered a phone call from a former customer seeking her services on credit.
“Those days are over. Can you pay me $1,000?” she asked, the price she once commanded for a night’s work. “If not, goodbye and leave me alone.” She hung up and groaned out loud: “Money.”
The caller, Abdirizaq Saleh, once had bodyguards and maids and the attention of beautiful women. When ransoms came in, a party was thrown, with blaring music, bottles of wine, the stimulant called khat and women for every man. Now Saleh is hiding from creditors in a dirty room filled with the dust-covered TVs and high-end clothes he acquired when flush.
“Ships are being held longer, ransoms are getting smaller and attacks are less likely to succeed,” Salah said while sitting on a threadbare mattress covered by a mosquito net. A plastic rain jacket he used while out at sea dangled from the door.
Somali pirates hijacked 46 ships in 2009 and 47 in 2010, the European Union Naval Force says. In 2011, pirates launched a record number of attacks – 176 – but commandeered only 25 ships, an indication that new on-board defenses were working. This year, pirates have hijacked just five ships, the last on May 10 when the MV Smyrna and its crew of 26 were taken. They are still being held.
“We have witnessed a significant drop in attacks in recent months. The stats speak for themselves,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jacqueline Sherriff, a spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force.