Pirates rule waters off Somalia

Pirates rule waters off Somalia
By Michelle Faul, The Associated Press
NAIROBI, Kenya - U.S. warships watched a hijacked vessel laden with tanks while other gunboats patrolled the dangerous waters off Somalia, but pirates still seized another freighter this week - and now hold about a dozen despite the international effort to protect a major shipping lane.
Military vessels from 10 nations are now converging on the world's most dangerous waters, but analysts and a Somali government official say the campaign won't halt piracy unless it also confronts the quagmire that is Somalia.
"World powers have neglected Somalia for years on end, and now its problems are touching the world. They have started on the wrong footing," said Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade, adviser to the president of Puntland, the semi-autonomous Somali region that is the pirates' base.
South Africa's Business Day newspaper issued a similar warning. "A lawless state, that sunk as the world watched and gave up, is now threatening international commerce," it said of the chaotic Horn of Africa country that has resisted intervention, including a disastrous U.S. mission in 1996.
The continued seizures of vessels - despite the presence of U.S. warships - highlights the difficulties of patrolling the waters off Somalia. The chief concern is that the brazen attacks could fuel terrorism and make one of the world's major shipping routes too dangerous and expensive to traverse.
Insurance rates for sailing in the area zone already have shot up tenfold
in a year.
The area in question is the Gulf of Aden, a 920- by 300-mile basin separating the Arabian coast from the Horn of Africa. It is used by about 250 ships a day, said a U.S. Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Stephanie Murdock.
The area was the scene of the deadly al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole off Yemen. And it is a hive of illegal activity, including gunrunning as well as people- and drug-smuggling.
Ships slow down off Somalia's northern coast waiting to enter the Red Sea en route to Arab refineries and the Suez Canal.
Already some piracy proceeds are believed to go to al-Shabab, a Somali militia that the U.S. accuses of harboring the terrorists who attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The Navy said that U.S. and coalition vessels and aircraft have thwarted 15 pirate attacks since they set up a "maritime security patrol area" in the Gulf of Aden on Aug. 22.