Sea Transportation: They Fought The Law, And The Law Lost


December 29, 2009: On December 17th, the Dutch frigate, the HNLMS Evertsen, was ordered to release 13 Somali pirates it had captured 15 days earlier. The pirates were caught in the act of attacking a merchant ship. But no European Union country would prosecute the pirates, and neither would Kenya, Tanzania or Seychelles. These last three nations have offered to prosecute pirates, if the price is right and there aren't too many of them. Terms for these services are still being negotiated. Thus, with no place to send their prisoners, the crew on the Evertsen returned the pirates to their mother ship (a large fishing boat which the Evertsen had been towing since December 2nd). The pirates didn’t get their weapons back, but did get food and fuel for their trip back to Somalia. There, the pirates will replace their lost weapons and go back to work. Other pirates will be encouraged, given the toothless nature of the anti-piracy patrol.

The Western "catch and release" tactics against the Somali pirates are failing. The pirates are encouraged by the fact that the foreign warships will not shoot. While the "catch and release" methods take some pirates out of circulation for a while, and prosecute a minority of them (the French, Americans and a few other catch and prosecute, or even kill, but that is considered barbarous and excessive by most Western nations), the pirates have learned to adapt. Thus, while the naval patrols reduced the pirate success rate early on (a quarter of the pirate attacks succeeded in 2009, versus 40 percent for all of 2008), the number of attacks went up, as did the ransom demands. Worse, the pirates are now operating far (up to 1,800 kilometers) off the east coast, as well as in the Gulf of Aden, and are attacking at nearly double the rate of last year (when 163 ships were attacked). In other words, the pirates are winning. The shipping companies are willing to tolerate the higher level of captures, because they simply pay the higher insurance rates, plus some danger pay to some of the crews, and keep issuing press releases deploring the situation. The fact of the matter is that, even if twice as many ships are captured as last year, this still means that over 99 percent of the ships moving through the area are not bothered. As long as the pirates aren't killing people, the shipping companies can tolerate the inconvenience.

Although France and the U.S. have used their commandos against the pirates, Germany tried to, but withdrew at the last minute because the risk of people getting hurt was considered too high. It's becoming fashionable in the West to view the pirates as displaced (by rapacious foreign fishing fleets) fishermen driven to piracy in order to feed their starving families. This is a fantasy, but a popular one (with a small grain of truth, just enough to keep it going.)




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close