x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Help smaller ships avoid pirates' scope

Who protects the sailors of smaller private dhows, ships and boats from pirates? As the case of the MV Albedo makes clear, these men are often on their own.

For 21 months he was abused and tortured while his Somali captors awaited their ransom demands to be met. And for 21 months, Jawaid Khan, the captain of the MV Albedo, protected his men from pirates' anger and frustration - so much so that at one point he was lowered into the sea by rope as pirates sprayed bullets around him.

On Thursday, Captain Khan's ordeal finally ended. To the delight of his family he was released, along with seven other Pakistani crew members, after Dh4 million ransom was paid. Mr Khan was never forgotten during his ordeal; friends and family rallied to secure his release. Without these Herculean efforts he and his men would likely still be held captive.

Mr Khan was lucky. But who protects the sailors of smaller private dhows, ships and boats in similar binds? Currently, hundreds of ships remain under the control of pirates. Some are backed by large companies with deep pockets and ample insurance to pay off pirates. In the case of the MV Albedo, only the determination of a nationwide effort led by Pakistani businessmen and charity groups managed to raise the ransom money. Even then, the amount was enough to secure the release of only eight of the 22 man crew. The rest are still in captivity.

As things stand, paying ransom seems to be the only solution. But while it's impossible not to sympathise with the decision to pay, it is clear doing so only perpetuates the cycle. Unless more coordinated antipiracy measures are taken, along with efforts to address the root causes of piracy, ships big and small will continue to be victimised.

Last November, a Dh55 million UAE-funded Coast Guard base opened at Ile Perseverance in Seychelles, complete with sophisticated coastal radar surveillance systems and a helipad. The 30,000 square-metre base took just a year to build, and was the Emirates' gift to a country constantly targeted by Somali pirates.

Much more cooperation like this is needed. Smaller firms can coordinate convoys to deter pirate advances. And officials of countries whose sailors are captured must get more involved in forcing their release, and offer naval resources when possible. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should carry much of this load.

For now, crime seems to pay for pirates. Unless urgent measures are taken, stories like Mr Khan's will sadly be repeated.