Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:37 pm (KSA) 14:37 pm (GMT)

Red Sea nations in crisis talks on Somali piracy

Piracy in the area has skyrocketed and caused ships to seek alternative routes other than the Suez Canal
Piracy in the area has skyrocketed and caused ships to seek alternative routes other than the Suez Canal

As Russia and France announced they would send more warships to combat piracy in the waters around Somalia, Arab Red Sea states were holding an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the threat, with Egypt saying all options were on the table to deal with the growing crisis.

Senior officials from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen met for the talks amid growing international frustration over a situation described by the International Maritime Bureau as "out of control."

The hijackers are demanding $25 million in ransom for the largest ship yet taken and its cargo of $100 million of oil, one of the pirates told AFP on Thursday. They have set a 10-day deadline.

The Saudi tanker Sirius Star was captured in the most daring raid yet

With three more ships captured since the Sirius Star was taken, foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Egypt would consider all possibilities in dealing with the crisis.

"The Egyptian national security establishment works intensively on all options, examines what measures could be taken in this regard, and decides whether a diplomatic and political solution will be preferred."

"All options are open," Egypt's official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.

Egypt relies heavily on revenue from traffic using the Suez Canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and Zaki said that some vessels are now taking alternative routes.

 The intensive multinational military presence in the southern outlet of the Red Sea is worrying 
Abu Bakr al-Kurbi, foreign minister of Yemen

Suez is Egypt's third-largest source of revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers, and currently about 7.5 percent of global trade passes through the canal.

"The phenomenon is threatening navigation in the Red Sea, causing some vessels to take other routes," Zaki said.

Somali pirates have attacked over 60 ships so far this year, resulting in the seizure of 33 vessels and capture of 200 sailors for ransom purposes.
The piracy threat has already prompted Norwegian shipping company Odfjell to order its ships to use the longer, more expensive but safer route around Cape of Good Hope, thus avoiding the Suez Canal and the Somali coast.

Zaki said Thursday's meeting "aims to promote coordination among the Arab countries overlooking Red Sea to discuss this unusual situation."

Yemen, which is co-hosting the talks, last week complained that the heavy deployment of multinational naval forces in the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy could pose a threat to Arab security.

"The intensive multinational military presence in the southern outlet of the Red Sea is worrying," Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi said.

Naval forces from the United States, Russia, Europe and elsewhere are patrolling the dangerous Gulf of Aden in an attempt to curb piracy attacks. The French and Russian navies announced plans Thursday to coordinate their efforts, Captain Igor Dygalo, an aide to the Russian navy commander, said.

 You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it's not going to ever solve this problem  
Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary

But the United States, which also has warships patrolling off Somalia, said a military approach was not the answer.

"You could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it's not going to ever solve this problem," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said on Wednesday.

"It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development," he told reporters.

The East African nation has been without a functioning government since 1991 and has no navy to police its coastline.

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