Indian Decade

Will al-Qaeda Turn to Piracy?

Piracy off the coast of Somalia is likely to be a tempting potential revenue source for al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Maritime piracy has become an increasingly high-profit, low-risk venture, meaning it’s a matter of when, not if, global terror outfits like al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba will jump on the bandwagon.

Pirates from Somalia and Nigeria have redefined the terms of engagement with skyrocketing ransom demands. In 2007, the average ransom payment in Somalia was about $500,000, according to the International Maritime Bureau, jumping to a whopping $25 million in 2008-09. Meanwhile, IMB figures show that 27 vessels are currently being held by Somali pirates, with 625 people being held hostage.

Tackling this menace will require a two-pronged response by the international community that encompasses both a diplomatic and military element, especially as the increasing radicalization of piracy has grave implications for the international maritime energy sector, with outfits like al-Qaeda having proven maritime capabilities.

A disturbing trend has been the increased targeting of energy vessels, with such targets making up as many as a quarter of all piracy attacks in recent years. It’s hard not to imagine high-value, petroleum-laden vessels—with their guarantees of hefty ransom demands—aren’t a tempting revenue source for al-Qaeda.

The international community needs to do more to co-ordinate its current naval efforts—there have been about half a dozen attacks already this year. And, with reports that international patrols are pushing Somali pirates into waters further afield, including closer to India’s coast, Delhi is bound to take a more active interest in helping tackle this problem.