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Egypt's Suez Canal Threatened By Somali Pirates

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And there could be a deal in the works to end one piracy case off Somalia's coast, the one that involves a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and heavy weapons. Nations along the Red Sea are calling for military intervention to end the growing number of pirate attacks. One of the countries most concerned is Egypt, which operates the Suez Canal. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Cairo.

PETER KENYON: The 75 percent increase in pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia this year set off alarm bells in Cairo. The Suez Canal is Egypt's third-largest source of income. And when three shipping companies ordered some of their vessels to travel around the Cape of Good Hope rather than risk the passage through the Suez, Egypt's anxiety took on a fresh urgency. Egypt says it's prepared for military action against the pirates, either alone or as part of a multinational force.

The head of the Suez Canal Authority said revenue did dip this fall from last year's record levels, but he added that sending supertankers around Africa is a costly and time-consuming alternative. So he believes the canal will remain the first option so long as security can be maintained. Russian, India, American, and European naval vessels are already patrolling the shipping lanes, but so far nations have been reluctant to blockade the Somali coast. One suspected pirate ship destroyed by the Indian navy turned out to be a Thai-owned fishing boat that had been seized by pirates.

Another solution to the piracy problem, some officials say, would be to restore the rule of law to the failed state of Somalia. But so far no one has stepped forward with an effective plan to accomplish that. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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