Tue, Aug 02, 2011 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Government limited in fight against Somali pirates

By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff Reporter

A Somali prison warden tries to control rowdy inmates at Berbera prison, which houses many suspected pirates, in Somalia’s breakaway Republic of Somaliland on March 30.

PHOTO: AFP

“Seafarers,” the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) says in its Guidelines on Fair Treatment of Seafarers, “are recognized as a special category of worker, given the global nature of the shipping industry and the different jurisdictions that they may be brought into contact with, and need special protection, especially in relation to contacts with public authorities.”

It is under this spirit that the IMO and other agencies have urged governments to promote the guidelines and to monitor how effectively they are being implemented.

As an oceanic country with the sixth-largest offshore fishing industry in the world, Taiwan is only now taking steps to combat piracy on the high seas.

What shook Taiwan from its stupor was the death during a NATO-led counter-piracy operation on May 10 of Wu Lai-yu (吳來于), captain of the Taiwan-flagged Jih Chun Tsai No. 68, which had been used by Somali pirates as a mother ship since its seizure on March 30 last year, . The ship was sunk after the operation.

In interviews with the Taipei Times, people with first-hand experience of pirates targeting fishing vessels said they sympathized with the government both in terms of prevention and rescue — comments that countered the criticism leveled at the government by lawmakers.

Hsieh Lung-yin (謝龍隱), owner of the Win Far No. 161, a 700-tonne tuna long-liner released in February last year after being held by Somali pirates for 11 months, said Win Far Group convinced the pirates to release the ship “all by ourselves.”

“To be honest, despite being willing to help, the government was helpless because it did not have any connections whatsoever,” Hsieh said by telephone.

Ni Hui-ling (倪惠玲), who handled ransom negotiations with pirates for six months in 2005 leading to release of the Hsin Lien Fa No. 36 and the Cheng Ching Feng, said what the government could do to help in rescue operations “was limited.”

The Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau (IBM-PRC) says the number of pirate attacks against ships worldwide has risen, with 445 attacks last year, compared with 239 in 2006, 263 in 2007, 293 in 2008 and 410 in 2009.

More than half, or 219, of the attacks last year were attributed to Somali pirates, it said, adding that hijackings off the coast of Somalia accounted for 92 percent of all ship seizures.

In the first six months of this year, the center said the number of attacks by Somali pirates was “the highest ever,” accounting for 163 of the 266 incidents worldwide.

Somali pirates were negotiating for the release of 20 vessels and 420 crew, said the agency, the only manned center to receive reports of pirate attacks 24 hours a day.

Since 2005, a year that saw an upsurge in pirate attacks and hijackings off the coast of Somalia, 10 Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels have been attacked by Somali pirates.

Among those, six were captured by pirates and then released on ransom, one was released without ransom, one escaped hijacking, the Jih Chun Tsai No. 68 was sunk and the Hsiuh Fu No. 1, which the government suspects was hijacked by Somali pirates on Dec. 25, has since been out of contact.

“In recent years, negotiations have gotten tougher than in the years when piracy began rising. Pirates keep hostages for a longer period [of time] and demand higher ransoms,” said Huang Hung-yan (黃鴻燕), director of the Deep Seas Fisheries Division of the Fisheries Agency.

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