By JENNY GROSS
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
LONDON—The key to beating piracy in Somalia is improving the standard of living in the country's coastal cities and creating jobs for their young people—not relying on intervention by international naval forces, Somalia's prime minister said.
"You don't want to cure the symptom, you have to cure the cause," Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said in an interview after a conference last week that brought together more than 50 leaders of governments and international organizations to discuss problems in the East African country.
"In the short term, you can address the problem with a naval blockade. But what we need is to invest in the coast communities, to invest in health and sanitation, so we can create a livelihood for the youth," Mr. Ali said.
In the coastal regions, 90% of Somalis between the ages of 18 and 30 are unemployed.
Somali pirates are responsible for more than half of global attacks on shipping and cost the shipping industry and governments between $6.6 billion and $6.9 billion in 2011, according to a report by Colorado-based initiative Oceans Beyond Piracy. Pirate attacks disrupt Africa's movement of crude oil and flow of goods, which heavily depend on trade by sea.
Mr. Ali, 46 years old, who became prime minister in June, said that aside from developing the coastal communities, the East African nation needs a judicial system. This would allow officials to prosecute and imprison pirates using a consistent policy, he said.
The Harvard-educated prime minister heads a United Nations-backed transitional government, though Somalia hasn't had a functioning central government since the outbreak of civil war in 1991. Pirates and terrorist organizations have flourished in the country's instability.
There has been some progress, however. In August, Islamic insurgents retreated from the capital, Mogadishu, after fighting with forces from the African Union and the transitional government. Mr. Ali said Somalia is ready to open a dialogue with members of al Shabaab, the country's al Qaeda-linked militant group, though he added that Somalia wouldn't allow al Qaeda to achieve its political ends through militant attacks.
"You cannot bring al Qaeda to the table in this kind of conference," Mr. Ali said. "But on the other hand, we're ready to talk to those who will renounce violence and want to be useful members of Somalia. We're not shutting that door."
Mr. Ali said the conference was an important milestone for Somalia. "The fact that over 50 countries and international organizations came together and discussed the stability of the long-term state of Somalia in itself was a massive achievement," he said. "Never in Somali history was Somalia addressed in this way."
At the conference, attended by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, nations pledged new funding to help fight piracy, to combat al Shabaab and address the country's hunger problem.
In 2011, there were 439 pirate attacks globally, down slightly from the previous year. Of the 802 sailors taken hostage internationally last year, half were held off the coast of Somalia. And seven of the eight sailors killed in 2011 were killed in Somali waters, according to a report by the International Maritime Bureau.
The financial costs are also high: The shipping industry paid $160 million in ransoms last year to Somali pirates, with the average ransom $5 million, according to Oceans Beyond Piracy. Trading routes must be altered to avoid piracy hot zones, leading to higher fuel consumption. Insurance premiums for ships operating in piracy-prone regions are steep, at about $20,000 to $40,000 per ship, with the number of shipowners buying piracy-related insurance on the rise. In 2011, 42,450 ships had piracy-related insurance, compared with 20,000 to 30,000 ships in 2010, Oceans Beyond Piracy said.
The oil industry is particularly hard-hit. Attacks on tankers are on the rise, and pirates have gravitated toward the Arabian Sea, where oil shipping is concentrated, the Oceans Beyond Piracy report said. In February 2011, pirates hijacked two oil tankers within two days, one of which was released after the payment of $13.5 million, the highest ransom ever paid in connection with Somali piracy, the report said.
Source: The Wall Street Journal