Tripoli: April 13
Singaporean naval forces combatting Indian Ocean piracy have cast doubt on claims that Somali pirates have acquired sophisticated weaponry . . .[restrict]smuggled out of Libya from Qaddafi’s arsenals.
The Algiers-based African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism (ACSRT) asserted at the third Indian Ocean Naval Symposium in Cape Town yesterday, that Libyan weaponry was being sold on the black market and that Somali pirates were big purchasers.
ACSRT analyst Judith van der Merwe was reported by Reuters to have said: “”We found that Libyan weapons are being sold in what is the world’s biggest black market for illegal gun smugglers, and Somali pirates are among those buying from sellers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries.
“We believe our information is credible and know that some of the pirates have acquired ship mines, as well as Stinger and other shoulder-held missile launchers.”
However a former commander of the multinational naval coalition anti-piracy campaign, Combined Task Force 150 operating in the Indian Ocean, said he had his doubts. Rear Admiral Harris Chan of the Singapore Navy, told the news agency: “At this stage we are seeing no evidence the pirates of Somalia are having any weapons beyond the AK47s and RPGs.”
What cannot be in doubt however is that Somali pirates are well able to afford more sophisticated weaponry. Within the 2.5 million square miles of the Indian Ocean, occasionally travelling 1,000 miles from their bases on the Somali coast, the pirates have made a good living in recent years. In 2011 they extorted $146 million in ransoms for ships and passengers. They currently hold ten vessels and 159 hostages. By some estimates, since the turn of the century, piracy has raked in more than $1 billion. The cost to the international maritime industry in terms of extra insurance and security, to say nothing of ransoms has, according to some sources, approached $12 billion.
Armed security personnel on vessels coupled with better liaison with the warships of Task Force 150 have however seen more than 1,000 pirates arrested and their vessels sunk. It has become harder to attack vessels. However, a US naval briefing last year predicted that the pirates would turn to both more powerful craft and more deadly weapons in an effort to reverse their declining rate of success since the start of 2011.