Monday, April 6, 2009

Somali Pirates come storming back

The Pirates of the Somali coast had themselves a busy weekend. In just 48 hours pirates snatched five ships off the east coast of Africa, including a German-owned freighter and a Taiwanese fishing trawler.

The weekend outbreak shows two things - one that having ships from a dozen of the world’s navies patrolling the Somali coast isn’t scaring off the pirates, and two, that the pirates are becoming bolder and more sophisticated in their hijackings. When the piracy problem first started, the attacks mostly came against ships traveling close to the Somali coast on their way to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Several of this weekend’s attacks though took place hundreds of miles from Somalia, far out in the Indian Ocean, meaning that the piracy problem is getting worse, not better.

Even the US Navy is admitting stopping piracy off Somalia might be out of their grasp. “We can’t be everywhere at once. This is basically a case of where the cops aren’t, you’re going to go,” said Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the US Navy, who called this weekend’s rash of piracy “unbelievable.”

It is an admission that trying to find one little pirate ship in millions of square miles of ocean is looking for a needle in a very large haystack. And there’s good reason to believe that it’s the wrong approach to take if you want to stop piracy off the east coast of Africa. In this post from January, I talked about this interview from Canada’s MacLean’s magazine with Abdiweli Ali Taar, the chief of the tiny Somali Coast Guard. Mr. Taar’s view is that if the nations engaging in naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean instead spent the money they’re using for anti-piracy patrols on anti-poverty programs ashore in Somalia - particularly on initiatives that created jobs - the piracy program would disappear. Many of the Somali pirates are former fisherman and merchant sailors who lost their jobs as Somalia’s economy collapsed due to the two-decades long civil war that has gripped the country.

As this weekend shows, maybe it is time for a different approach.
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