Somalia: Kidnappings show the changing face of Piracy – and threaten Kenyan tourism

The second kidnapping in less than a month from northern Kenya – this time of a 66-year old disabled French woman from the resort of Manda– threatens to cause a crisis in Kenya’s tourism industry. It also shines a spotlight on Somali piracy once again.

The Kenyan authorities have suggested the Islamic militant group Al Shabaab, which  operates out of war-torn anarchic Somalia only 100km to the north, is behind both this abduction and the previous one in September of a British woman (whose husband was shot dead during the incident), thereby endowing them with a political agenda. Others blame pirate gangs after the ransoms.

The Lamu Archipelago traditionally attracts a high-market, exclusive clientele.  Now bookings are being cancelled. Both France and the UK have warned their nationals against anything other than essential travel to the area. Kenya’s Tourism Minister, Najib Balala, has come out with fighting talk, saying it is time to “destroy” the Somali militants, even if it involves pursuing them across the border. Local witnesses involved in the tourist trade however say that warnings about suspicious vessels were ignored.

The Kenyan Daily Nation said that the kidnappings raised questions about the ability of the country’s security agencies to secure the country’s borders and deal with terrorism threats. They also come at a time the country has intensified the war against terrorism by establishing elite units within security agencies with the help of the US government, the paper said.

Pirates once focused on ships at sea, but in recent years have also attacked private yachts, capturing Europeans or Americans, sometimes holding them for many months and demanding large ransoms for their release. A Briton kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, the environmental researcher Murray Watson, is either still in captivity or dead.

The pirates are becoming increasingly violent according to The Human Cost of Somali Piracy. The recent crimes have seen the first deliberate murders of hostages – four American tourists in February and two crew members from the Beluga Nomination in January.  Nearly 300 people are currently being held by Somali pirates. Some of the enormous ransom profits fund terrorism.

The ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says that in 2011 there have been 194 piracy / armed robbery incidents out of Somalia including 24 total hijackings.  400 hostages have been taken and 15 people killed.  15 vessels and 277 hostages are currently being held by Somali pirates.

What is clear is that the nature of Somali piracy is changing. The effects could be far reaching and even more damaging that first predicted.

You can follow the IMB’s Piracy and Armed Robbery incidents feed on Twitter @IMB_Piracy

Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Tourist Murder and Abduction Vol. 48 p.18998 (Sept. 2011)

Indian Ocean Anti-Piracy Task Force Vol. 48 p. 18960 (August 2011)

Pirate Transfer Agreement with Mauritius Vol. 48. P. 18925 (July 2011)

Human Cost Vol. 48 p. 18890 (June 2011)

Weak and Divided International Response Vol. 48 p.18818 (April 2011)

Seychelles Court Sentence Vol. 48 p. 18782 (March)

Tri-Nation Rescue Group Vol. 48 p. 18783 (March)

Pirates Captured Vol. 48 p. 18783 (March)

US Civilians Killed Vol. 48 p. 18747 (February)

Escalation in Attacks Vol. 48 p. 18710 (January)

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