Who will stop Somali pirates?

The Russian Navy is to maintain a regular presence near Somali waters in 2009. The news comes as representatives of 40 countries hold a UN-sponsored conference to discuss more measures to crack down on piracy in the area. Meanwhile, vessels are being hija

On Tuesday Yemeni coastguards were put on high alert after pirates hi-jacked two boats carrying 22 fishermen. The waters of Yemen are only a few hours away from Somalia – the heartland of modern day piracy.

More than 40 ships have been hijacked in the area this year alone.

“As far as Yemeni waters are concerned, they are all safe and ships can sail through them safely. The real danger comes from Somali waters, which are far from here. We advise ships to sail away from there,” a coastguard said. 

Yemen has become a base for international warships patrolling the troubled seas.

The Russian frigate Neustrashymy has been escorting convoys since October.

“While sailing the oceans, we’ve received several SOS calls from unguarded merchant ships. We responded to the calls and defended them against piracy.  We accompany all ships in the convoy regardless of their flag,” said the Neustrashymy’s captain, Oleg Gorinov.

The Neustrashimy is equiped with anti-ship missiles and torpedoes, and carries a helicopter. Such warships are a tough nut to crack for pirates. They usually use small and fast motor boats. Surprise is their main tactic.

“They start shooting into the air near the ship to terrorise the crew and then they start threatening the ship with their RPG weapons. When the crew sees this intense fire, they surrender because they don't want any damage to the ship, which might cost a lot,” head of Yemen coastguard, Ali Rasa,  says.

Somali pirates have earned an estimated US$ 30 million in ransoms this year. The shipowners almost always pay and pirates increase the sums demanded.

The US is now calling on the international community to fight piracy not only at sea, but on land.

So far the Somali government has failed to stop the criminals, which means that a quiet day in harbour is a rare thing for both warships and coastguards.