Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somali Pirates Fight over Record Ransom

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Somali Pirates Fight over Record Ransom

Article excerpt

Owners of a Greek-flagged oil tanker dropped a record ransom payment of $5.5 million to $7 million on the deck of the ship today, prompting Somali pirates to release the Maran Centaurus.

Ransoms to Somali pirates have reached a historic high, as owners of the Maran Centaurus - a Greek-flagged oil tanker - dropped a ransom payment of $5.5 million to $7 million on the deck of the ship today.

The payment, which prompted Somali pirates in the port of Haradheere to release the ship, marks a dramatic escalation in ransom payments since the $3 million payment for the Saudi owned oil tanker Sirius Star last year. While US and European navies continue to patrol shipping lanes off the Somali coast, there has been no letup in pirate attacks, and pirates, if anything, appear to be becoming even more effective at capturing ships.

"They are getting much more profitable, in part because they are much more effective at capturing ships," says Roger Middleton, an expert on Somali piracy at Chatham House, a think tank in London. By venturing further out to sea, and using mother ships, pirate crews have improved their success ratio to 40 out of 100 hijacking attempts last year from 40 out of 200 the year before, he says.

Escalating payments and higher success rates call into question the effectiveness of the high-profile international naval patrolling in the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea.

There are countless hundreds of small Somali pirate skiffs operating off the Somali coast, and an unknown number of "mother ships" out in deeper waters as far away as the Seychelles Islands, which pirates use to get close to commercial ships before sending speedboats for the final assault. While some commercial shippers have begun arming their crews to defend themselves - and major UN relief shipments often travel through the danger zone under naval convoy - the growing success of Somali piracy shows that mere military means are not the solution.

A Nairobi-based group that follows shipping trends in the region, Ecoterra International, said that the ransom money is now being held "in a heavily guarded house in Haradheere," a coastal city north of Mogadishu. …

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