Sea Transportation: Catch And Release Rules


January 16, 2009: Getting accurate numbers on pirate activity off Somalia is difficult. Ship owners and their insurance companies don't reveal much information, and it's a hostile area for journalists (who are subject to kidnapping, or worse.) However, compiling data from published sources, and eliminating likely duplication, it appears that there were 115 attacks on ships in the Gulf of Aden (where over 80 percent of the attacks occurred off the Somali coast last year.) Pirates were successful with 46 of these attacks, most of them in the last five months of the year. During the first seven months, there were only 24 attacks, but ten of them (42 percent) succeeded. Then things got worse. In August there were ten attacks, seven of them successful. In September, there were twenty attacks, nine of them successful. In October, there were 18 attacks, five successful. November had 27 attacks, 11 successful. In December, the impact of protective measures (by the ships, and the arrival of over a dozen warships into the area) saw attacks decline to 16, with only four successful. So far this month, there have been at least a dozen attacks, none of them successful.

For all of 2008, 46 ships (40 percent of those attacked) were captured. By the end of the year, ships had adapted. This included posting more lookouts, moving at higher speed, and often travelling in convoys through the Gulf of Aden, escorted by a warship. The international anti-piracy patrol (now called Task Force 151) heavily patrols a corridor through the Gulf of Aden, which has rushed to the scene of over half a dozen attacks and driven off the pirates. The fourteen nations with warships there, all have different rules for handing pirates. Most of the warships are allowed to kill the pirates, but most are forbidden from taking pirates prisoner (except temporarily, before releasing the thugs without their weapons). Even the United States Navy must practice "catch and release",  because the U.S. government does not believe it could successfully prosecute the pirates in the United States.

There are only guesstimates on the amount of ransom paid in 2008. Over thirty ships were released in 2008, and the highest known ransom was $3 million. Most 2008 ransoms appear to be closer to a million dollars, with several (for smaller ships) being less than that. So the ransom total is probably in the range $30-50 million for all of Somalia.


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