A Dangerous Detour in Maritime Piracy

  • 19 November 2008

Maritime piracy in the Gulf of Aden across form the Somali coast has recently increased to the extent that it threatens maritime shipping, especially that the gulf is the southern entrance to the Red Sea which is a vital artery for international trade and a shipping lane for Arabian Gulf oil to global markets. Statistics show that about 3.3 million barrels of crude oil pass through the Bab al-Mandab waterway to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, about 4% of international demand according to the US Department of Energy. It has become obvious from the type and size of piracy operations that it is practiced by professional and organized pirates. Estimates are that the number of pirates has reached 1,100 while total ransoms have added up to $30 million during 2008 alone.

This dangerous situation has forced an increase in maritime shipping insurance. Reports also note that some companies are considering changing their routes away from the Gulf of Aden although this may represent a large loss. Such a change in course will take longer and more expensive routes because the gulf shortens distances for tankers to Europe by 60%.

Different steps are being taken to address this danger but the situation is very complicated and intertwined. There is instability in Somalia, an expansion of piracy areas over the Somali and Kenyan coasts (more than 1.1 million square miles), and rising concerns about mixing piracy with terrorist activities according to news about the presence and operations of al-Qaeda in the area.

What this means is that there should be good cooperation and coordination but within the principles of international law and the sovereignty of Red Sea and Gulf of Aden states. Concomitantly, there is an urgent need for cooperation between Red Sea Arab states and between them and non-Arab countries because piracy is a threat to all. From here comes the importance of the consultative meeting for Red Sea Arab states in addition to Eritrea tomorrow in Cairo which is slated to discuss efforts to address the danger represented by maritime piracy over the recent period.