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There is international shock surrounding the hijacking of the Saudi Arabian oil tanker the ‘Sirius Star’ which was heading for the United States of America via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. The world has yet to come to terms with the danger of the piracy that has been carried out along the coast of Somalia for quite some time.

The international shock is justified, for the Saudi Arabian super-tanker – which is three times the size of an aircraft carrier – is the largest ship to ever be pirated, and has an estimated cargo value of at least $100 million in today’s market price.

The ‘Sirius Star’ has a maximum capacity of up to two million barrels of oil, which is equivalent to one quarter of the Saudi Arabian daily export, or to put it another way, corresponds to the entire daily consumption of a country such as France. The hijacking of the Saudi-Arabian tanker is one of the most spectacular acts of maritime piracy in history, and occurred despite an UN and NATO international naval response to protect one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. There were also US, French, and Russian warships in the region.

A specialist in Somali affairs said that the hijacking of the Saudi Arabian tanker ‘looks like a deliberate two fingers from some very bright Somalis. Anyone who describes them as a bunch of camel herders needs to think again’.

This is the crux of the matter, for along with the shock of the hijacking of the Saudi-owned tanker, it was announced yesterday that a Chinese cargo vessel has also been hijacked. The past warnings regarding the dangers of what has been happening in Somalia were not heeded by the countries bordering the Red Sea or by the international community.

Piracy used to be a threat only to shipping in the Gulf of Aden, where it resulted in an increase in insurance costs, and prompted some shipping companies to change their shipping routes and operate via the Cape of Good Horn in Southern Africa, avoiding the Suez Canal altogether.

We must remember that piracy and smuggling are the primary means of financing terrorism, and pirates have already received millions of dollars in ransom money. Through piracy we have also discovered the magnitude of arms trade in some Arab regions threatened by war. The best example of this is the Ukrainian ship which was seized carrying 33 tanks on their way to areas of conflict in the Sudan.

We seem to have forgotten that Somalia is a failed country, without a government or central authority. We were under the impression that we would not have to pay the price for this, as if one could close their doors and not be affected by their neighbors. Yet this has been proved wrong, just as it has been proved correct that what you ignore today will catch up with you tomorrow.

And so it is up to the countries that border the Red Sea, and the international community as a whole, to find solutions to the problems within Somalia, while at the same time protecting international waters from the threat of piracy. The danger of what is happening goes beyond the hijacking of ships, and amounts to no less than a real threat to the security of the countries in the region.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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