A string of pirate attacks off the east coast of Africa have left at least 17 dead, and the Somali tourist industry in tatters.
"It has been a devastating blow to us." says Abdul El-Rashid, director of Somalia's Tourist Board. "Our beachfront hotels have a record number of vacancies, and reservations over the next 6 months are down 60%."
Pirate attacks have always occurred in these troubled waters, admits El-Rashid, however, since early summer the attacks have gotten bolder, and deadlier. "They are taking much larger ships these days, and often killing the entire crew and taking the passengers hostage. Needless to say, this has put quite a damper on tourism to the region, and we are starting to feel the effects."
El-Rashid bristles at the suggestion that Somalia itself might be a factor in the lack of enthusiasm travelers have for the region. "Nonsense!", says El-Rashid. "Our beaches and golf courses are beautiful, our women lovely, and our people are warm, friendly and welcoming. No, it's definitely the pirate attacks."
The Somali government has said it will immediately begin to crack down on pirates operating in it's waters. "We will not tolerate this kind of lawless behavior." says Mahmoud Khadami, head of Somalia's maritime security agency. "Somalia is known throughout the world for it's breathtaking beauty, and for the hospitality it's people show to visitors. Modeling agencies the world over come here to recruit. You think New York and LA have supermodels? Well, guess what? We BREED them here. When they need a new face, this is the first place they look. And when wealthy westerners think 'vacation destination', what's one of the first places to come to mind? Somalia, of course!"
Somali warships have stepped up patrols along their coast, and at least 20 suspected pirates have been picked up in the past 2 weeks alone. El-Rashid sees this as a positive sign that things may be ready for a turn around.
"Hopefully, when people see our resolve in putting an end to these attacks, they will once again flock to our shores to enjoy the many world-class tourist attractions we are famous for."