Hotting up for Pirates in Gulf of Aden

Somali Pirates photographed from US Navy ships who encircle the hijacked Faina
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The waters of the Gulf of Aden are finally hotting up for Somali pirates. Apart from the swift action on a couple of occasions by France in freeing their French sailors and arresting pirates, months of Talkfest has so far been the only result of the United Nations edict permitting foreign nations to pursue pirates in Somali waters.

But now, hopefully, it will be different.

As early as next week seven NATO ships including several frigates are planning to start patrols off the coast of Somalia to combat piracy and escort aid ships to the nation, an alliance spokesman said Wednesday.

The European Union has also announced plans to send a dozen ships to the maritime region, which are intended to relieve the NATO contingent in December.

In a new aggressive move, the French Navy has again led the charge, arresting nine suspected pirates. Instead of repatriating them to France as in the past, however, they have handed them over to authorities in the breakaway Somali region of Puntland, French officials said Thursday. Twelve suspected pirates are currently being held in custody in France, although lawyers have argued that Paris has no jurisdiction to try their cases.

French marines in the Gulf of Aden arrested the new detainees when their patrol intercepted two boats on Wednesday in international waters about 100 nautical miles (185 kilometres) off the Somali coast, Paris and local Puntland officials each said.

They found small arms and anti-tank weapons and equipment used to board ships on the vessels.

Puntland's deputy fisheries minister Abdukadir Muse Yusuf said that 'the pirates... dropped all their weapons in the water before they were caught.'

France's latest military intervention -- implicitly authorised by a UN Security Council resolution earlier this month -- was welcomed by the authorities in Puntland, where in April a court sentenced 11 people to life imprisonment for piracy.

In a report released Thursday, the International Maritime Bureau said 63 of the 199 piracy incidents recorded worldwide in the first nine months of this year occurred in the waters off Somalia.

The latest moves by the international community to solve the Gulf of Aden problem are all good news for cruising sailors headed for the Mediterranean.

They traditionally start their passages through the Gulf of Aden in February each year, when the winds are most favourable for a northbound passage through the Red Sea. Word coming back from cruising boats this year, however, so far indicates that many cruising yachts are choosing the longer route around the south of the African continent.

We at Sail-World will be watching carefully between now and February to see just how successful the international action will be in making the Gulf of Aden safe for all.