Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Muhammad Abdirahman, media adviser to the president of the Puntland region in northeast Somalia, which has enjoyed self-rule since 1998, has called on the pirates seizing the Saudi oil tanker, Al-Nisr al-Saudi, to immediately release it along with its 14-crew members, stressing that his government is opposed to all acts of piracy off the Somali coasts.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdirahman said: “We condemn any act of piracy or the hijacking of ships. We oppose paying ransom to pirates because this will only encourage them to perpetrate more of these criminal activities.” He added: “We are sorry for the hijacking of the Saudi oil tanker and tell the pirates that this tanker belongs to an important Muslim and Arab country that has often extended generous aid to the Somali people. The tanker and its crew must be released immediately and unconditionally, we are part of our Arab and Muslim nation and we must not offend or do any harm to our brethren.”
Abdirrahman added that: “As the Puntland government, we are opposed to payment of ransom to pirates or entering into negotiations with them. While we do not call for the use of military force to release the hijacked tanker because of the danger involved to the tanker and its crew, we ask all parties not to easily meet the pirates’ demands.”
Abdirahman accused the international community of being too slow in offering the necessary financial, logistic, and military assistance to the Puntland government to enable it to strengthen the currently limited resources of its coast guard. He said that once the required aid is given to his government, it will be able to play a better role in combating pirates and stopping their horrific activities than the NATO forces and the various military fleets amassed off the Somalia coasts. Abdirahman added: “It is important that the Arab and Muslim countries, particularly those close to the Somali coast, to offer aid to his government to combat the pirates on land. He added: The pirates go to sea from inside, and so we must confront them on land, which would be better than the massing of all these foreign fleets off our coasts. These fleets will not be of much help in eliminating the pirates’ criminal activities, terrorizing navigation in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden.
Abdirahman denied reports that senior officials of the Puntland government are involved in acts of piracy, saying: “these are groundless allegations. As government, we are committed to combating and eliminating this phenomenon.” He noted that, notwithstanding its poor resources, his government has succeeded in ending pirate activities in several towns in the Puntland Region.
In a related development, the US State Department’s Arabic website said that the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden have been plagued by piracy. The obstruction of trade and of the distribution of humanitarian aid associated with this scourge represents a challenge to the international community.
It is to be recalled that the Somali pirates continue to hold seven ships and 160 crew members. They lately released a Taiwanese fishing boat which they seized in April last year. According to the latest figures, the pirates succeeded in 50 out of 198 attacks on ships last year. In 2008, 42 out of 122 attacks on ships were successful. US navy has lately deployed three Orion B reconnaissance planes in the Seychelles islands to carry out anti-piracy missions. In addition, an international fleet of US, EU, Russian, Chinese, NATO, and other countries guards the Gulf of Aden to deter Somali pirates in the region. On average, 17 ships provide security in the maritime route through which 30,000 commercial ships cross annually. The ships assigned the mission of guarding the route cooperates in this mission although there is no official military force with a commander to supervene their activities.