On Saturday, off the coast of East Africa, pirates seized their largest catch ever: a giant Saudi-owned oil tanker called the Sirius Star. The brazen attack came on the heels of the capture of a Ukrainian vessel (loaded with armaments destined for Kenya) by Somali pirates in September. Humanitarian food shipments into Somalia have had naval escort for nearly a year — evidence of how much the security of sea-lanes has eroded. Media reports suggest that Somali pirates have already attacked more than 80 ships in 2008. [You will see in the report below, the number is already up to 95.]
By the 1970s, as a part of a growing chaos in parts of Africa and Asia, incidents of piracy began to pick up. But it was not until the 21st century that piracy has experienced a meteoric rise, with the number of attacks increasing by double-digit rates per year. Last year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, 263 actual and attempted pirate attacks took place. Large maritime areas have now become known as pirate heavens, where mariners can expect to be routinely molested.
Experience — especially that of colonial America — suggests that a few sporadic antipirate efforts will not be enough to solve the problem. Only a dedicated naval campaign, along with a determined effort to close the pirates' safe havens, will succeed in sending piracy back to the history books.
There has been some progress on this front. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has dispatched a formidable multinational force — including British, Italian and Greek ships — to join the American, French, Canadian and Danish vessels already cruising off Somalia's vast coastline. France has also aggressively pursued pirates, freeing captured vessels and hostages.
One thing is certain: As in the war on terror, the new campaign against piracy will test the mettle of Western governments. It will also require them to balance the rights of lawbreakers against the indisputable rights of the law-abiding to not live their lives in danger and fear.
The following is quoted from an article called Somalia's Dangerous Waters:
In the bad old days they used to hang them on the mast. Today the "international community" is worried about their "human rights." But they remain what they have always been — criminals of the high seas or, simply put, pirates. In recent years they have been active in a number of places — Nigeria, the Malacca Straits and, most blatantly, Somalia. The difference is that in the former two cases pirates are mostly freelancers, while in the latter case piracy is the national industry (together with the cultivation of khat, the Somali narcotic of choice). Piracy flourishes along the Somali coast because it is profitable and it can be done at small risk. [Not to mention the fact that imitating the example of Mohammad is obligatory on all Muslims, and Mohammad was a raider of caravans, usually taking the plunder to fund his jihad and ransoming the wealthy people he captured, and enslaving the rest.]Something can and should be done about this, and the rest of the article goes into detail about what needs to be done.
As Mary Harper reported for the BBC: “Whenever word comes out that pirates have taken yet another ship in the Somali region of Puntland, extraordinary things start to happen. There is a great rush to the port of Eyl, where most of the hijacked vessels are kept by the well-armed pirate gangs. People put on ties and smart clothes. They arrive in land cruisers with their laptops, one saying he is the pirates’ accountant, another that he is their chief negotiator. Special restaurants have even been set up to prepare food for the crews of the hijacked ships.”
Reporter Jonathan Clayton, meanwhile, provided this portrait of life in a pirate city: "Activity in Eyl moves up a gear. Clan elders arrive, eager to broker a deal between their young clansmen, who use speedboats to board vessels, and shipping companies eager to pay a ransom for cargoes and staff. The ransoms are sometimes paid into foreign accounts in places such as the United Arab Emirates and even Western Europe, and may also be paid in cash through middlemen in neighboring Kenya. These have spawned more pirate gangs, armed with better weapons and better attack boats.” [This is the same mistake Europe and America made in the 1500's, 1600's and 1700's with the Muslim pirates on the Barbary Coast. They armed and funded the enemy.]
Even Abdullahi Said O’Yusuf, the mayor of Eyl, has admitted that pirates use ransom payments to "buy houses in big cities" in different parts of the country. All of these activities mean local jobs, a share of the loot, delivered through clan elders, and strong popular support. It also involves the shrewd manipulation of Western respect for the law, a concept that does not exist locally.
Since the beginning of 2008, pirates operating off the Somali coast have seized 95 ships, the most spectacular being the Saudi-owned Sirius Star, a supertanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil, more than a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily exports and worth about $100 million. Insurance companies have so far paid hundreds of millions of dollars in ransoms for ships and crews, with the rate per ship varying from $300,000 to $1.5 million. As a result, insurance premiums have gone up by 10 percent and the increasingly frequent change of ship routes, from the Suez Canal to that around the Cape of Good Hope, is 30 percent longer and 20,000-30,000 Euros a day more expensive.