Thursday, November 20, 2008

Somali pirate crisis: West ignored Iranian warning

The Economist reports:
The threat to merchant shipping in the region is now greater than it has been for decades. The taking of the leviathan 330-metre Saudi-owned Sirius Star in the high seas fully 450 nautical miles (833km) off the Kenyan coast, on Saturday, shows that all tankers heading to or from the Arabian Gulf and all cargo vessels using the Suez Canal are now at risk from pirates, no matter what course they hold to.
The article continues:
The geographical range open to the pirates gives them (generally) the upper hand over foreign navies deployed to stop them. So, too, does their ingenious use of fishing boats for satellite cover. Warships can easily intercept captured vessels and, under a United Nations resolution agreed upon earlier this year, chase them back into Somali waters. But it is rare for them to stop the pirates boarding vessels and taking crews hostage in the first place. And by luring warships into Somali waters to watch over captured vessels, the pirates will continue to stretch their operations further south towards the Comoros and the Mozambique Channel–once the hunting grounds of late 17th century English pirates.
The Economist notes that the capture of the Saudi owned supertanker Sirius Star ought to teach the Saudis to keep their promises:
For the Saudis, its loss is a reminder of a problem that has been festering just across the Red Sea for some time: Somali analysts say that Saudi Arabia has made big promises of aid and assistance to Somalia, but has delivered nothing of value.
On a more ominous note, The Economist speculates that the pirates' recent successful assault on supertanker Sirius Star could inspire Islamic terrorist groups to pay pirates to attack and destroy supertankers in the future.

Was this crisis unexpected?

It was not. The Iranian Foreign Ministry raised alarm about this problem a few months back, as I blogged here. At the time, it struck me that the need to solve the Somali pirate problem served as an example of one of many areas in which US and Iranian interests naturally coincide. The Iranians had warned back in September:
“The major powers’ negligence in tackling this issue and their efforts to put the blame on others… will intensify the insecurity.”
Had this warning been heeded, perhaps the pirates' ambitions could have been tempered, and the potentially calamitous ramifications of their present successes might have be averted.

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