/ 9 September 2008

Somali Islamist leader urges world to curb piracy

A Somali Islamist leader has urged the world to curb unbridled piracy off the country's coastline.

A Somali Islamist leader on Tuesday urged the world to curb unbridled piracy off the country’s coastline that is threatening to disrupt a key commercial maritime lane.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who heads the Alliance for Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) — an umbrella Somali opposition group — warned that piracy in the lawless country had become ”more organised and dangerous”.

”Those who carry out this filthy kidnapping of ships are on the ground and do not live in the sea. They must be brought to book and pirates must be eliminated,” he said in Nairobi.

Somali waters are the most dangerous in the world for pirate attacks, with the International Maritime Bureau reporting more than 24 known attacks in the area between April and June this year.

But maritime experts say many other attacks go unreported along Somalia’s 3 700km of largely unpatrolled coastline infested by pirates, who operate high-powered speedboats and carry heavy machine guns and rocket launchers.

”These nasty elements are driven by greed and the international community must help Somalia overcome this mayhem,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed was the head of Islamic Courts Union, which nearly curbed piracy when it seized much of the country from warlords in the second half of 2006, until the movement was ousted by Ethiopian forces early 2007.

The Somali transitional government, which took over, has failed to stem the rising tide of piracy that poses a threat in the Gulf of Aden, a key commercial shipping lane.

Pirates, who are currently holding more than seven ships and their crew off the coast of northern Somalia, are demanding of millions of dollars in ransom before releasing them.

Somalia plunged into a civil war after the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre, setting off a deadly power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore a functional government. — AFP