The UK is loosening its purse strings to tighten the noose around Somali pirates who have been emboldened by a string of audacious hijackings in the Indian Ocean Region and the Gulf of Aden. British foreign minister William Hague has announced a £6 million (Rs 44 crore) package to improve maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean and to increase prison capacity in countries such as Somalia, Kenya and Seychelles.
The UK will funnel £600,000 (Rs 4.44 cr) into providing optical imagery equipment to the Seychelles Coastguard to allow surveillance aircraft to take high quality videos and photographs, emulating an Indian Navy initiative to help the island nation build anti-piracy capacity.
A British High Commission spokesman said, “This will aid the capture of the pirates and provide valuable evidence in court cases. The fuel tanks of the aircraft will also be upgraded to enable them to fly longer distances.”
India has deployed a Dornier aircraft in Seychelles for surveillance and anti-piracy operations under a two-year commitment following a spurt in hijacking bids. Over and above a financial assistance of $5 million (Rs 22.5 crore), New Delhi has also pledged one Dornier Surveillance aircraft and two Chetak helicopters to boost Seychelles’ anti-piracy efforts.
The UK’s funding includes £5.3 million to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC) counter-piracy programme to build regional capacity for piracy prosecutions and detentions in Somalia, Kenya and Seychelles. The UK hopes the move will help ensure that suspects are prosecuted and those found guilty of piracy are imprisoned.
There are currently around 820 Somali pirates either serving sentences or awaiting trial around the world. In a series of dramatic missions, the Indian Navy alone has captured more than 100 Somali pirates during the last three months in the Arabian Sea.
In its most successful anti-piracy operation on March 12, the Navy immobilised a pirate ship and arrested 61 Somali pirates who had been stalking merchant vessels in the Arabian Sea for more than three months. Thirteen crewmembers taken hostage by the pirates were also freed in the operation executed by two warships 1,111 km off India’s west coast.
The navy launched its biggest anti-piracy drive last November to sanitise the Arabian Sea after a spurt in piracy attempts reported by transiting merchant vessels. Helicopters and patrol aircraft are supporting the warships, with marine commandos onboard. Piracy incidents in the area have seen a 60% decline since December 2010.