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Pirate given 34 years jail - but will it deter?

by Nancy Knudsen on 18 Feb 2011
The cruising sailor’s route - now the Indian Ocean is deemed too dangerous to cross .. .
It won't make any difference this year to the convoy of yachts - estimated to be around a hundred - who are stranded on the wrong side of the Indian Ocean, but one can't help wondering if the 34 year sentence handed down to a Somali pirate will act as a deterrent to the bands of pirates now spread across the western Indian Ocean.

The answer would probably be 'No.' As with many underworld activities, those caught are rarely the organisers who finance and benefit most from piracy operations. The young man who has been given 34 years jail in an American prison, one Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, is likely to be regarded as merely collateral damage in their operations.

According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), in the past 12 months there have been 286 piracy-related incidents off the coast of Somalia resulting in 67 hijacked ships, with 1,130 seafarers on board.

This includes the kidnapping of one South African cruising couple, Deborah Calitz and Bruno Pelizzari, off the coast of east Africa in October. Ransom demands have been made, first of 13million dollars, then reduced to 10million. According to unconfirmed reports, the couple have been 'sold' to a different pirate gang, who reduced the ransom demand.

'The number of attacks remains unabated this year,' says Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 'The overall level is still fairly high.'

As far as captured pirates are concerned, 'nobody has figured out how to deal with them,' says Ms. Cooke, noting ambiguities in national and international law. While Kenya has convicted some 30 pirates and given them fairly lenient sentences, she says, other captured pirates more typically are sent back home.

Using captured ships has increased the pirates' scope, and now, for the flotilla of cruising sailors who are used to getting to Salalah in Oman safely, it is considered too dangerous to leave Maldives or India, where the yachts are collected.

Sailing with his wife and two-year-old daughter Devi and an American crew member Kate Schafer on a 60ft yacht called Alondra, Rene Tiemessen has become the de facto spokesman for the group of yachts.

Rene says that, spread between the Maldives and ports in India, are at least 200-250 other cruising sailors, travelling on around 100 yachts, who are seeking protection from navy ships of a similar kind to that afforded to commercial shipping.

However, Royal Navy commanders have ­condemned the flotilla, as there have been repeated warnings for yachties to avoid the area completely. Rene and his group of sailors insist that the situation has changed so radically in the last few months, due partly to the east monsoon being very late, that a new stretch of water - between the latitude of Mumbai and Salalah is the new danger area.

Britain currently commands Operation Atlanta, the EU anti-piracy taskforce, which has 27 vessels from Spain, Germany, Italy and France patrolling an area larger than Europe. Royal Navy commanders turned down the request on the basis that they cannot spare a vessel.

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) strongly recommends against travelling this route because of the pirate activity in the area, but it doesn't stop dozens of yachts from making the journey. Travelling by convoy has long been recognised as sensible for yachts travelling through the Gulf of Aden, with recent convoys staying strictly in the patrolled zone or hugging the coast of Yemen to remain under the control of the Yemeni Coastguard. Yemen has played a significant role in recent years in the war against piracy, with coordination centres in three Yemeni cities.

Tiemessen said some of the yachts are getting desperate. 'Something bad is going to happen,' he said told Sail-World Cruising last week by satellite phone.
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