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YEMEN: Government concerned over maritime piracy

SANA, 12 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - Continued piracy in the Gulf of Aden and in the Arabian Sea is threatening Yemen’s fishing industry, said a high ranking official.

"Sea piracy is threatening the stability of the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea,” said Foreign and Migrants Affairs Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi. “Our coast guard and marine forces are on the alert to take necessary action against such piracy."

Al-Qirbi pointed out that pirates represent a threat to both tourist cruises and international shipping in the region. “Our problem is the threat they pose to our fishermen as well, and their role in the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons," he added.

According to the Ministry of Defence website, 20 fishing boats out of 83 seized by Somali pirates in recent weeks have been freed. But al-Qirbi pointed out that, as some fishermen are released, others are kidnapped.

State-run Saba News agency reported on 9 March that pirates had seized 50 fishermen off Yemen's Abdul-Kori island, part of a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa.

“Although none of the fishermen have been harmed, pirates confiscated their property, including their boats,” said Al-Qirbi. He added that Sana had already brought the matter up with Somalia’s interim government and with influential groups in autonomous regions of the war-torn country such as Puntland and the self-declared Republic of Somaliland.

An official at the Ministry of Fisheries, speaking anonymously, said that the government had also appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene to secure the release of abducted fishermen.

"We received an official request from the Yemeni foreign ministry to follow the case of the fishermen,” confirmed Martin Amacher, head of the ICRC’s delegation to Yemen, in Sana. “As we aren’t in a position to do that from here, our colleagues in Nairobi are following the case up."

After petroleum, the fishing sector is the biggest source of foreign currency, contributing about US $210 million to the Yemeni economy in 2004. According to the World Bank, the industry is also a major source of employment for the country’s poor, especially those inhabiting coastal areas.

There is also concern that piracy could threaten the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the region. Last June, Somali pirates hijacked a ship chartered by the UN World Food Programme to deliver aid to Somalia’s Lower Juba Valley.

With the help of donors, the government established a coast guard unit in 2002 to police its 2,500 km-long coastline. But to be effective against piracy, observers say the unit needs more than US $60 million for operational costs, a figure yet to be met, and some 150 patrol boats. It currently only has 20.

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