CAIRO: Egypt hosted an emergency meeting Thursday of six Arab countries trying to forge a joint strategy against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, which threatens a crucial international trade route through the Suez Canal in the Red Sea – Egypt s key source of revenue.
The countries in the meeting were those who with Egypt share the Red Sea – Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Jordan. A representative from Somalia s transitional government also attended the meeting behind closed doors in Cairo.
Egyptian diplomat Wafaa Bassem said ahead of the talks that the meeting would look into several options. They include setting up a piracy monitoring center, joint maneuvers by Arab navies, and warning systems for ships navigating through the Red Sea.
Egypt is concerned the piracy surge – especially since the hijacking of Saudi supertanker Sirius Star last week – will prompt shipping companies to opt for safer routes that avoid Egypt s Suez Canal, which links the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.
The pirates have stunned the maritime community with their brazen attacks, highlighted by the hijacking of the Saudi-owned supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil.
A coalition of warships from eight nations, as well as from NATO and the US Navy s 5th Fleet, is patrolling a critical zone in the Gulf of Aden, a vast expanse that is the only access to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean and where most of the more than 80 attacks this year have occurred.
Major shipping companies said that they are considering other options including avoiding the passage through the Suez Canal to avoid having to go through the Gulf of Aden.
That means longer, costlier trips around the southern tip of Africa. Odfjell SE, a big Norwegian shipping group, took that step Tuesday, ordering its more than 90 tankers to take the long route.
With three more ships captured since the Sirius Star was taken, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said Egypt would consider all possibilities in dealing with the crisis.
The Egyptian national security establishment works intensively on all options, examines what measures could be taken in this regard, and decides whether a diplomatic and political solution will be preferred.
All options are open, Egypt s official MENA news agency quoted him as saying.
Egypt relies heavily on revenue from traffic using the Suez Canal, and Zaki said that some vessels are (now) taking alternative routes.
Suez is Egypt s third-largest source of revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers, and currently about 7.5 percent of global trade passes through the canal.
The phenomenon is threatening navigation in the Red Sea, causing some vessels to take other routes, Zaki said.
He said Thursday s meeting aims to promote coordination among the Arab countries overlooking Red Sea to discuss this unusual situation.
Yemen, which is co-hosting the talks, last week complained that the heavy deployment of multinational naval forces in the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy could pose a threat to Arab security.
The intensive multinational military presence in the southern outlet of the Red Sea is worrying, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Kurbi said. -Agencies