MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - The international community is showing hypocrisy by suddenly focussing on Somali piracy because of the capture of one American, a regional maritime group said on Saturday.
Sea gangs from the lawless Horn of Africa nation grabbed world headlines this week when they briefly hijacked the U.S. freighter Maersk Alabama. Its 20 crew retook control, but the gunmen took captain Richard Phillips hostage on a lifeboat.
The global media has tracked in great detail each twist and turn of the drama as it unfolds, including a failed attempt to swim to safety by the former Boston taxi driver.
But Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said it was a pity similar attention was not paid to the nearly 250 other hostages — all from poorer nations — currently being held by other Somali pirates.
The biggest nationality represented, at 92, is Filipino.
“The media and the international community at large is just demonstrating its hypocrisy,” he said in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, where the 17,000-tonne Alabama was due on Saturday.
“Journalists have flooded here from all over the world because of one American captain. What about all the others, from Bangladesh, from Pakistan, from the Philippines, some of whom have been held now for months?”
The story has all the front-page ingredients: buccaneers audaciously try to seize a huge U.S. container ship, its sailors resist, then Phillips apparently volunteers to board the lifeboat with the pirates in return for his crew’s safety.
Meanwhile, a state-of-the-art U.S. naval destroyer armed with missiles, torpedoes and helicopters keeps a watchful eye. And more warships are on the way.
Mwangura told Reuters, however, that did not excuse the lack of attention given to the scores of other hostages still being held for ransom off the Somali coast.
“Once again, it has taken American involvement to get world powers really interested,” said a diplomat who tracks Somalia from Nairobi. “I hope they don’t forget the Filipinos and all the others, once this guy is released.”
Heavily-armed gangs from the failed state hijacked 42 vessels last year in the strategic Gulf of Aden and further south in the Indian Ocean, and tried to attack dozens more.
The crews of many of those ships are being held hostage near small pirate bases on the coast, where their captors tend to treat them well in anticipation of a sizeable ransom payout.
Mwangura said the same international focus had highlighted the long-running crime wave off Somalia in the past — but only when white people from rich nations were involved.
When the gangs seized the Saudi supertanker Sirius Star last year, everyone paid attention. Not just because it was carrying $100 million (68.2 million pounds) worth of crude oil, he said, but because it had two British crewmen on board too.
“It was the same in 2005. The media went crazy when that luxury cruise liner, the Seabourn Spirit, was attacked with lots of white tourists on board. And they weren’t even hijacked.”
Editing by Andrew Cawthorne