Pirates on the prowl in the Gulf of Aden have neither ideological allegiance nor known links with terrorists, say officials of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces deployed in the counter-piracy drive in the region.

Briefing journalists from India at the NATO Maritime Component Command at Northwood in Middlesex on Tuesday, Commander Simon Marshall said money remained the prime motive of pirates.

“Although groups like Al Shahab operating in Mogadishu have links with the Al-Qaeda, they do not seem to be interested in ransom amounts that are as small as $2 million,” he said.

Commander Marshall, however, emphasised that there was ground to believe that the pirates appeared to work for their handlers, “potentially in the United Kingdom, the United States and countries with the Somali Diaspora.”

As per data obtained by the European Union Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) from the cell phones and satellite phones recovered from the pirates, the negotiators for ransom could be in the U.K., Italy or some Scandinavian countries.

At the instance of the U.S., a transit corridor through the Gulf of Aden — Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC), with only China taking exception to it — was established in August last to make naval patrols effective in the region. This was amended in February this year to reflect the revised analysis of pirate activity and feedback from the shipping industry.

On the modus operandi of the pirates, Commander Marshall said they generally used wood or fibre-glass fast attack skiffs capable of cruising at 20 knots-plus and pirated mother ships for their operations.

“They are unemployed youth aged between 16 and 45 years. They could also be ex-fishermen, ex-police or ex-Coast Guard personnel. They do not target specific vessels and look for cargo ships moving at less than 15 knots. Armed with AK-47s and RPGs, they communicate with their handlers using HF and UHF sets and, occasionally, thurayia-type satellite phones.

However, it is a tough task for the forces to distinguish the fishermen from pirates, despite having the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) images, as even fishermen operating in this area wield AKs for self-protection,” he said.

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