x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Somali piracy poses a shared problem

As pirate attacks continue, it is too much to ask mariners to simply trust their luck.

As Mohammed Shabbir tells it, "bad luck" brought Somali pirates on to his dhow's deck last March. The UAE-based helmsman of the MSV Al Kaderi spent two days held hostage by bandits off the coast of Hobyo in Somalia. They took "all our money and clothes", Mr Shabbir told The National. "We were left with nothing."

There was a time when his tale might have been unusual, a one-off that was indeed the very definition of bad luck. Sadly, those days are over. As we report today in the first of a three-part series on piracy, seafarers are under increasing siege.

Of the 30 vessels currently held hostage off the Somali coast, five belong to UAE-based firms. Four had been travelling to or from the Emirates when they were hijacked. Despite the international attention piracy receives, regional companies are nonetheless struggling to deal with the repercussions, especially on the financial front.

Solutions are in short supply. Crippled by hunger, poverty and militancy, Somalia's pirates are living symptoms of larger problems. Many Somalis have few options besides crime to make a living. Promises of lucrative paydays at sea are hard to deter even in the face of overwhelming force.

There is now an international armada patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, a fleet that has been noteworthy for failing to stem the tide of piracy as much as anything else. A long-term solution will require more than just naval patrols.

The first step should be an international consensus on what to do with pirates who are captured. Kenya has tried suspected pirates in its courts, but an overwhelmed legal system has left that policy in doubt. As the United Nations has argued, piracy is a challenge for the entire world, not just those who are closest to the problem.

Shipping in these vital sea lanes has been under threat for too long without a solution. As pirate attacks continue, it is too much to ask mariners like Mr Shabbir to simply trust their luck.