/ 1 November 2008

Egypt calls urgent meeting to fight Somali piracy

Egypt has called an urgent meeting of Arab countries bordering the Red Sea to combat rampant piracy off Somalia, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Egypt and Yemen will coordinate the meeting, which will be held later this month, the ministry said in a statement, without specifying a date.

Cairo has said that piracy has not harmed traffic through the Suez Canal — which is Egypt’s third largest source of revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers.

Last month the British think tank Chatham House said in a report that increasingly brazen hijackings by Somali pirates, who commandeered a Ukrainian freighter carrying a shipment of tanks in September, threatened Suez traffic.

”The danger and cost of piracy [insurance premiums for the Gulf of Aden have increased tenfold] mean that shipping could be forced to avoid the Gulf of Aden/Suez Canal and divert around the Cape of Good Hope,” it said.

”At a time of high inflationary pressures, this should be of grave concern,” the report added.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 77 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January. Thirty-one were hijacked and 10 are still being held for ransom. Pirates are holding about 200 crew members.

Piracy is rife and well-organised in the area where Somalia’s north-eastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30% of the world’s oil passes.

Nato has sent a number of destroyers and frigates to the region to escort civilian shipping.

Egypt says a solution must be found to the root problems that have led to piracy off Somalia, citing the chaotic political situation there.

In September, Somali pirates released an Egyptian ship with 25 crew on board after holding them for three weeks.

Egypt denies paying a ransom to the pirates, who held a record 374 hostages in September, according to the risk-assessment group Risk Intelligence. — Sapa-AFP