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Surya Gangadharan
Friday , May 18, 2012 at 16 : 13

Indians in headsight of the pirates of Puntland


Ever heard of Puntland? What about Abdirahman Mohamed Mohamud? Well he's the president of this "state of Somalia", as the MEA describes it. It's the more stable part of the African Horn and he's in India seeking support for strong measures against piracy and training for his marine police.

Mohamud's presence in India was largely ignored by the press but naval sources were hopeful the government would push "his excellency" hard on the issue of piracy from his soil. Although Mohamud has been vocal against pirates, sources said two merchant ships hijacked in April and May are anchored in the port of Baladeer, which is in Puntland. When asked Mohamud denied it, nor was he illuminating on how the port of Eyl (also in Puntland) is a pirate hub.

Coincidentally, Mohamud's visit marked the first ever air strikes on pirate strongholds in Somalia. An EU naval helicopter targeted a pirate base on the Somali coast early on Tuesday, destroying several skiffs. It's the first operation since the EU unveiled a more muscular anti-piracy policy two months ago, which permits attacks on offshore and onshore pirate bases.

There's more, the first "private navy" will hit the waters of the Gulf of Aden by December. It will comprise a fleet of 18 fast patrol boats all armed, being set up at a cost of $70 mn and will be based in Djibouti, the French naval enclave on the Horn. The ships will be operated by a British firm Convoy Escort Programme and its cost will be underwritten by Lloyds.

Each tanker/merchant vessel will be charged $30,000-40,000 if it wants to be escorted through the internationally recognised transit corridor. The current cost for insurance is around $50,000-$80,000 so the private navy should have no problem taking off. If all goes well, it will be able to protect around 25 per cent of the traffic through the pirate-infested waters.

India and Indian sailors are bound to benefit but the buzz from Somalia is ominous. Pirates are on the lookout for Indian sailors to trade for their kith and kin held in India on charges of piracy.


More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.