The mayor of a coastal town in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland reports that poorly-paid government security force members are joining forces with local pirates, who are earning millions of dollars from ransom payments. Puntland officials acknowledge that huge ransoms from ship owners are encouraging more and more people to view piracy as a quick way to make money. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
The mayor of Eyl, Abdullahi Said Yusuf, tells VOA that about 40 government security force members accompanied by as many as 400 militiamen in pick-up trucks arrived in Eyl earlier this week.
Yusuf says they have joined forces with nearly 24 criminals, who in recent months have turned his coastal town into a booming center for piracy. "They are helping the pirates because they need money," he said.
Puntland's Minister of Fisheries, Ports and Maritime Transportation Ahmed Said Aw-Nur acknowledges that the regional administration has lacked funds to pay the salaries of government and local security forces for several months.
But he says ship owners are as much to blame for the growing piracy problem, because they are paying ransoms that help fuel piracy operations along the Somali coast.
"The ship owners facilitate that, and we have criticized many times that payment," the minister noted. "The pirates are offering everybody to join them and here, the people are facing food crisis, inflation and so on, and the pirates are getting the money. So, that is the problem."
Puntland authorities have expressed alarm about the surge in piracy along Somalia's 3,000 kilometer-long coast, which is near key shipping lanes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean. More than 20 ships have been attacked this year, most of them off the coast of Puntland, making that stretch of the coastline one of the most dangerous in the world.
The latest hijacking occurred on 26 May, when Puntland-based pirates seized a Dutch-owned vessel and its nine-member crew. The pirates are demanding more than $1 million in ransom, a sum that international maritime experts say ship owners have paid in the past.
The regional Puntland government and Somalia's transitional federal government say they lack the money and resources to tackle the crisis on their own. They have given their blessings to a U.N. Security Council resolution passed this week that allows states cooperating with the Somali interim government to enter Somali waters to prevent attacks by armed robbers.
But with increasing number of Somalis looking to piracy as a way out of poverty, foreign navies are expected to have limited success in curbing pirate activities.