Somali piracy and its forgotten victims

Kochi marina - the last two boats are leaving and none coming
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While would-be circumnavigators and other would-be Indian Ocean sailors have had their sailing options curtailed by the scourge of Somali piracy, spare a thought for the other victims, from the economic victim the Port of Kochi to the tragic death of some Indian fishermen this week at the hands of the crew of an Italian cargo ship who thought they were pirates.

Kochi, long a favoured stopover point for the sailor travelling between the Red Sea and South East Asia, a few years ago exulted in having built a marina to encourage the annual flotilla of cruising yachts that stopped to enjoy rich Kochi and its fertile holiday ground of Kerala. Now the marina, full to brimming last year, is empty.

It doesn't take much to work out that it is the waves of pirate fear that are scaring yachtsmen away. Not a single yacht is scheduled to berth in Kochi this year.

Marina officials do not expect the scenario to change dramatically in the coming six weeks as the ideal sail window is from December to March. Dedicated in 2010, marina can berth 37 yachts. Last year the Kochi marina hosted 35 yachts. But for the two yachts that reached here last year, the marina wears a deserted look now.

'We had 35 arrivals last year, said Alex P George, official of the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) in-charge of the marina, 'but this year it's quite dull as none is coming this way. We collected a berthing fee of Rs 30 lakh (approx $60,000) last year.'

'Those two yachts are all set to leave,' said commander Jose Varghese of Ocean Blue, which has been outsourced by KTDC to run the Kochi marina. The poor interest shown by yachtsmen in Kochi facility is surprising as Indian as well as other navies have reported significant dip in number of pirate attacks. 'May be the fate of two couples who were brutally killed in Arabian Sea last year continues to haunt mariners,' he said.

'There were several reports of seizures by pirates in the area of Arabian Sea between west of Maldives and Lakshdweep and the Omani and Yemeni coasts. Naturally, this route is avoided and yachts head for Thailand and Malaysia,' commander Jose said.

Alex is expecting the business to return a year or two later. 'Mariners prepare for their voyage two years in advance. So the recent dip in piracy incidents may not reflect in immediate arrivals. But next season should bring us more guests,' he said.

In the tragic firing incident, the Italian cargo ship, Enrica Lexie fired at an Indian fishing boat that it mistook for a pirate vessel, killing two fishermen, according to an announcement by India’s navy.

The Indian coast guard and navy vessels escorted the Italian ship to the nearby port city of Kochi and were questioning the captain and crew.

The owner of the fishing vessel, who goes by the single name Freddy, said Thursday the firing was unprovoked. The boat was fishing when the ship opened fire, killing the two fishermen instantly, he said.

Nine other fishermen onboard the craft survived.

Several countries, including India, allow ship owners to deploy armed security guards on ships. Ship owners say the move has proved effective and prevented hijackings.