By Daniel Kalinaki, Political Platform Reporter
Gulf of Aden. A young French soldier stands portside on a ship chugging slowly through the dark waters of the Gulf of Aden. He scans the horizon with a steady but practised sweep of his binoculars.
Set on a mount next to him, oiled and glistening in the clean, early morning air, is an M2HB Browning 12.7-millimetre machine-gun. A long chain of bullets snakes from the gun’s feeding mechanism into a metallic ammunition box next to it, a crouching serpentine trail of lead-tipped venom.
In the distance ahead, a scrappy range of hills looms into view. “That is Bosaso,” the soldier says suddenly in a curt, matter-of-fact manner, perhaps lest I mistake it for Cap Martin on the French Rivieria.
There is no such chance. We are sailing in the Gulf of Aden, that expanse of water that separates Africa from the Middle East, and we are looking for pirates. We are on the French warship FS Siroco, an amphibious landing ship and the crown in the jewel of the European Union Naval Force deployed here.
Up north, many, 11,627 kilometres away, is the Suez Canal which, when opened for business in 1869 changed world commerce hugely by joining the Mediterranean and Red seas. Rather than sailing down the Cape of Good Hope at the southern-most tip of Africa, ships from European harbours headed to the Middle East and Asia could sail down the Gulf of Aden.
Such sea traffic was always going to attract pirates, those hijackers of the high seas. However, the breakdown of Somalia, which has the longest coastline of any African country, soon spilled over from land to the sea, giving piracy momentum.
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