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Somalia: It's pirate season again

With the end of the monsoons, Somali pirates are hijacking ships again.

Alan Cole, coordinator of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime anti-piracy programs, said that more land-based gunmen are being drawn to piracy. He says this helps to explain why there are more attacks but fewer successful hijackings and why more shots are being fired during attacks than in previous years.

“These are desperate gunmen, not professional sailors or fishermen,” said Cole. He added that navies are finding more and more upturned skiffs out at sea suggesting that unskilled sailors are losing their way, and their lives, on the ocean.

Without a functioning government since 1991, Somalia is unable to enforce laws on land or at sea, allowing the arid Horn of Africa country to become an anarchic haven for pirates as well as religious extremists. Its 1,880-mile long coast is dotted with lawless towns that have become havens for the pirates.

According to piracy monitoring group Ecoterra International, pirates are now holding 23 foreign vessels and 414 crew.

The Piracy Reporting Center at the International Maritime Bureau counted 100 pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia during the first half of the year. Twenty-seven of those resulted in hijackings. The Piracy Reporting Center keeps an interactive map of pirate incidents. Depending on the strength of their attacks in the coming months, 2010 could be another record year.

Last year Somali pirates launched 217 attacks, 47 of which were successful, up from 42 successful hijackings out of 111 attacks in 2008.

The Combined Task Force, bringing together an array of ships, officers and weapons, is dedicated to battling the danger in the Indian Ocean coast off Somalia.

The current commander of the combined task force, Turkish Rear Admiral Sinan Etugrul, said after the operation: “This regional problem, truly, has [a] global impact and we are completely committed to bringing the disruptive acts of piracy to an end.”