Sea Transportation: Europeans OK Attacks on Somali Pirate Bases

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March 26, 2012: Although the Somali pirates have to work harder and harder to steal a ransom-worthy ship these days, they are still bringing in over $12 million in ransom for the 2-3 ships they get paid to release each month. As the anti-piracy patrol and ship operators have become more efficient at dealing with pirates, it's become harder for pirates to even get into position to make an attack, and even then, fewer than 20 percent of the attacks succeed. That is largely because more large merchant ships are carrying armed security personnel, who shoot back if the pirates get too close. Even without armed guards, the anti-piracy patrol can quickly have an armed helicopter over a ship under attack. Even if pirates get on board many ships have "safe rooms" for the crew to retreat to, after they have shut down the engines. In those cases, the pirates usually abandon the ship, especially if an anti-piracy patrol helicopter or warship shows up.

The pirates continue to be an expensive problem, costing shipping companies that must use the Suez Canal or visit East African or Persian Gulf ports over $500 million a month (for security measures). That extra cost is paid by those having cargo moved through the area and, ultimately, the consumer.

The traditional cure for piracy is to shut down their bases. But the major seafaring nations are unwilling to go ashore in Somalia to do this. Most of the pirates operate out of the northern Somali statelet of Puntland. There, the pirates have bribed or intimidated local officials to leave the pirate bases alone.

Some major seafaring nations, like China and India, are talking more aggressively of attacking the pirate bases. The EU (European Union) recently authorized its ships and aircraft off Somalia to hit individual targets on land (like fuel storage, vehicles, and other key pirate assets). This would lead to civilian casualties and would be publicly condemned by the UN and many nations. But the seafaring nations would quietly encourage such action, a solution for piracy that has worked for thousands of years. Fearing just such an old-school response the Somalis have refrained from rough treatment of their captives. Nevertheless, the pirates have, in the last five years, killed over sixty civilian sailors and injured hundreds. But the pirates know that if they got too rough with their captives their bases would be at risk of attack. Some of the more thoughtful pirates also realize that it won't last. This can be seen by how much money the wealthier pirates are moving out of the country (usually to Kenya or the Arabian Peninsula).

 


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