Arab countries meet to tackle Somali pirate threat
Egypt hosted Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia on Thursday in a bid to protect valuable maritime trade routes from pirates.
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Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Rome on Wednesday that the ship's owners, Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd., were talking to the pirates, who have demanded $25 million in ransom.Skip to next paragraph
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Arab countries concerned about trade
Thursday's closed-door meeting in Cairo underscores the degree to which the Arab states of the Red Sea region feel threatened by the increasingly daring pirate attacks and their increasingly valuable targets.
Analysts say there is also concern over the pirates' suspected ties to Islamist groups active in Somalia, including Al Qaeda.
"To really solve this problem, the international community must search for stability and economic and political development in Somalia," says Nabil Abdel Fattah, assistant director of Egypt's Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
"These Arab countries need international support – diplomatically, militarily, and economically," he adds.
Writing in the Saudi pro-government daily Al Watan, Jamal Ahmad Khashikji, a columnist, said that the seizure of the MV Sirius Star was a game changer that struck at the heart of Saudi concerns about Somalia.
He called on Arab and Islamic states to consider military action against pirates, saying the hijacking was tantamount to an attack on Jeddah, Saudi Arabia's business capital.
"But Somalia is part of our national security environment and 'failing countries' are an evil that infects all their neighbours," Mr. Khashikji wrote.
"Terrorism, weapons, and illegal immigration are all sources of regional concern and anxiety, but they could have been ignored up until this week, which witnessed the hijacking of the Saudi oil supertanker and a failed attack on another Saudi freighter."
The Jeddah-based Arab Daily News also called for a strong response against the hijackers on Thursday, writing in an editorial: "It is not exaggeration that the Kingdom's very economy is at stake here – as well as that of other Gulf states."
For Egypt, whose economy relies heavily on tolls paid for travelling through the Suez Canal, it is of paramount importance that shipping companies continue to see the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea as safe routes. Nearly 8 percent of world trade passes through the waterway, and it is Egypt's third-largest source of foreign currency. In the first half of 2008, it collected $2.6 billion from 10,497 ships.
"The Red Sea is definitely open for business," says Mr. Zaki. "It is clean of any pirate activity and we plan on keeping it as clean as possible, and we want to work with the international community to keep it that way."