Pirates use Yemen island as fuel base

2011-07-05 18:07
London - Somali pirates have been using Yemen's remote Horn of Africa island of Socotra as a refuelling hub enabling their attack craft to stay restocked for longer periods at sea and pose a greater hazard to shipping, maritime sources say.

Despite an international naval presence in the region, seaborne gangs have been exploiting political turmoil in Yemen to pick up fuel, and possibly other supplies including food, sources told Reuters.

"Socotra has been used for months if not longer," said Michael Frodl, with C-LEVEL maritime risk consultancy and an adviser to Lloyd's of London underwriters, citing intelligence reports he was privy to.  

 "It is perhaps the most important refueling hub for hijacked merchant vessels used as motherships, especially those operating between the Gulf of Aden and India's western waters, mainly off Oman and increasingly closer to the Strait of Hormuz."

"A hijacked merchant vessel, unlike a hijacked dhow, has a voracious thirst for fuel and needs a very well stocked refueling station," Frodl said.

A Yemen government official said authorities around a month ago had captured 20 people believed to be pirates on the island and handed them over to authorities in Yemen's nearby southern port city of al-Mukalla on the mainland.

A source said separately the 20 people had been on a regular commercial ship, but added that 16 Somali pirates were taken into custody in recent days and were being detained on Socotra.

"There was a lot of piracy north of Socotra during the north east monsoon and it is likely they have been using the island," the source said. "Pirates use the beaches on the mainland not too far from Mukalla to collect fuel, and presumably other equipment."

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) watchdog said the pirate support systems had to be promptly stopped.

"Socotra is strategically located because it is right up there against the Gulf of Aden and also along the eastern seaboard of Yemen," said IMB director Pottengal Mukundan.

"If it is true that the pirates are using Socotra, then it is an extremely disturbing development and it requires immediate investigation."

Somali gangs, who are making millions of dollars in ransoms, are becoming increasingly violent, and are able to stay out at sea for long periods and in all weather conditions using captured merchant vessels as mother ships. The crisis is costing world trade billions of dollars a year.

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