29 January 2006

East Africa: Nations Join Hands to Fight Indian Ocean Piracy

Nairobi — A multi-national force has been deployed at the Indian Ocean coast to combat rising number of sophisticated pirates. It is feared that the activities of the pirates could cost Kenya Sh10 billion in lost revenue.

In one of the most recent incidents, the US marines last week captured pirates who had hijacked a ship.

A guided missile, USS Winston S Churchill, detected the vessel following a tip that pirates were preparing to attack.

Kenyan soldiers are being trained by US and French naval forces in combating piracy. The pirates are using rocket-propelled grenades to disable cruise ships and cargo vessels. Sources say the training is being treated as a matter of priority since business at the port at seriously affected.

The port serves several countries in the region, including Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Eastern Congo, southern Sudan and Ethiopia.

The possibility is that, if the menace continues, these countries could look to other alternative ports.

Ships have already hiked their fees, which could lead to higher costs of imports.

This has been necessitated by the need for armed escorts for ships and increased insurance premiums.

Kenyan security forces have so far been unable to contain the threat, fearing a link to international terrorism.

Kenyan security sources claim that Al-Qaeda could be using the attacks to help finance operations.

They cite the captured maritime military manuals of Al-Quad chief Bad al-Raman al-Nature, who masterminded several suicide attacks on military ships.

The training for the Kenyan soldiers and officers from the anti-terrorism unit began late last year.

Military spokesman, Bogita Ongeri, said yesterday they have established a strategic monitoring centre for this purpose.

He said military personnel have always provided security to ships arriving and leaving the Kenyan waters.

"We are always informed on ships arriving and leaving, which we escort. We also have security radars that monitor any activity at the ocean," he said.

Head of anti-terrorism unit police headquarters, John Kamwende, said the incidences are being taken seriously.

The rising cases of pirate attacks have caused the World Food Programme (WFP) to consider suspending transporting food aid to Somalia by sea.

Last month, WFP had to do so by land route, but the journey is more expensive and slower.

Pirates last year seized a UN-chartered vessel carrying relief food for tsunami victims and unloaded the foodstuffs.

There have been more than 35 cases of piracy in the Indian Ocean in the last year.

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