Merchant ships and professional crews are not the only sailors risking attack by pirates in the Gulf of Aden off the Somali coast. Opportunistic attacks involving both pirates and local fishermen have resulted in increasing acts of piracy in the region, 24 so far this year.
The problem began about five years ago when Somali fisherman, upset about over-fishing by foreign fleets, began to kidnap trawlers and their crews and hold them for ransom. Civil war and a breakdown of the Somali government only exacerbated the situation, leaving the door open for Somali clans to operate in the lawless environment. Merchant fleets were the first targets and included a Dutch freighter and its crew. They were held for 31 days and released only after a ransom of $700,000 was paid to their captors. In April, 26 crewmembers of a Spanish fishing vessel were kidnapped. They were freed only after the Spanish government negotiated on their behalf.
The most recent incident involves a German couple that were abducted from their boat on June 23, as they sailed through the Gulf of Aden on a trip from Egypt to Thailand. The attack is the first reported instance of a non-professional crew being taken for ransom. District Commissioner of the Somali Las Korey area, Yusuf Jama Dabeed said that troops from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland found the couple’s yacht abandoned on shore, but that the kidnappers had taken their captives into the mountains. The attackers have demanded $2 million. The German government is still investigating.
Although the area is not heavily trafficked by yachtsmen, some 100 or so yachts transit the area each year — usually shorthanded. In response to the current danger, the Canadian government has sent three warships to help thwart attacks. The Canadian flotilla, which is under the command of Commander Steve Paget, includes HMCS Protecteur, HMCS Calgary and HMCS Iroquois. Paget said that until now, “there has been nobody out there to catch them.” The Canadian naval presence may provide an effective deterrent.