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Piracy and global economy

india Updated: Jul 02, 2011 23:15 IST
Namita Kohli
Namita Kohli
Hindustan Times
Namita Kohli

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), incidents of piracy have risen almost two-fold — from 239 in 2006 to 445 in 2010, and a major share of these have taken place on Somalian waters.

There has been a three-fold increase trade in the last three decades — more than a lakh ships sail around the world, registered in 150 countries. Technology has enabled even huge ships to operate with a handful of crew — nearly 14 lakh seafarers as of now, mostly from third-world countries, making all of it a fairly low-cost affair.

Bulk of the trade is concentrated in the certain hubs, one such being Gulf of Aden, where goods from West Asia China, south and south-east Asia are transported to Europe via Suez canal.

The Gulf of Aden is also the hub of Somalian piracy, that started around 2006 as an attempt by the local fishermen to repulse foreign trawlers, primarily from South East Asia and Middle East, from fishing illegally in the Somalian waters, explains Rohit Negi, assistant professor at the Ambedkar University, Delhi. He traces the rise of Somalian piracy in the context of the country's unstable political situation. Since 1991, Somalia has had no central government. It is divided into the sovereign but unrecognised state of Somaliland, the self governing region of Puntland and is controlled by the Islamist group Al Shabaab in the southern region. It is also embroiled in a long standing conflict with Ethiopia that has supported various warlord factions in Somalia.

So when Somalian fishermen started losing their livelihoods to illegal fishing, they formed a local militia of sorts and started hijacking ships, demanding ransom in exchange for the lives of the crew and the ship. This sort of piracy is as opposed to the "more dangerous" form of piracy that happens in the South China Sea, where pirates are involved in taking over the ship, stealing the cargo and reselling the ship, as Negi points out in his article on piracy in the Economic and Political Weekly. However, Somalian pirates never harm the crew, once they are take hostage, since the ransom is always in exchange of the crew and ship safety.