Food prices under threat from pirates

Food prices under threat from pirates

Djibouti: Pirate attacks wreaking havoc on one of the world’s key shipping routes could cause sharp price hikes for food deliveries to African countries that can little afford it, port operators say.

“The costs of maritime transport will be affected—either by a detour to avoid the Gulf of Aden route or by insurance fees—and will be directly passed on to consumers," said Jerome Ntibarekerwa, head of the Port Management Association of Eastern and Southern Africa (PMAESA). “For African countries, especially those that are isolated, the cost of transporting imported products already represents 70% of the final consumer price."

Pirates have attacked at least 100 ships since the start of the year in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off lawless and conflict-torn Somalia despite the recent presence of foreign navies in the region seeking to stop them. In the latest wave of attacks, pirates hit three ships in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday while Chinese sailors backed up by international naval vessels fought off attackers trying to hijack their vessel.

International efforts to counter the increasingly bold raids were boosted late Tuesday when the UN Security Council approved operations against the pirates’ land lairs in Somalia. But the threat of repercussions for both the region and the rest of the world remains—and the loot currently held by the pirates is a clear illustration. They now hold at least 15 ships, including a Saudi-owned super tanker with two million barrels of crude oil and an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo vessel.

While residents of African nations are facing increases in prices on food and other imports, the ports themselves are also at risk, officials say.

Ntibarekerwa spoke of the possibility of “seeing certain companies frankly deserting our ports, causing slowdowns in merchandise transport and making it impossible to send our exports". He said the pirate attacks threatened “serious implications" for ports.

Authorities in Djibouti, a small nation bordering Somalia that relies heavily on shipping, are particularly concerned. “Piracy is among our biggest worries," said Djibouti transport?minister?Hassan Bahdon. With Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for almost two decades, unable to clamp down on the pirates itself and international navies struggling to patrol the vast region, port officials say coastal African nations must unite against the problem.

“We are going to raise this problem at the next (African Union) summit in January to attempt to find a common position on the problem and to harmonize our legislative frameworks," said Imed Zamit, head of the African Union’s maritime transport unit, adding that “indispensable African trade occurs by sea and through the ports".

PMAESA is also trying to have?its members adopt a common approach that authorizes land military operations that would allow them to pursue pirates. “The draft agreement is ready. All that’s left is for the member states to accept it," said Ntibarekerwa.