Sea Transportation: Somali Pirates Get Ambitious

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November 6, 2005: Incidents in which merchant ships have been captured by pirates off the Horn of Africa, since the beginning of 2005, total 12, two more than the equivalent period last year. In addition, several fishing vessels have been taken as well. Currently three freighters, from small "flag of convenience" countries, and three Taiwanese fishing boats are still in the hands of pirates, but are being closely observed by Western naval forces.

Recently, even a small (302 passengers and crew) cruise ship, 160 kilometers off the Somali coast, and headed for Kenya, was attacked by two speedboats full of heavily armed Somali pirates. The crew repelled boarding attempts using a sonic cannon, one of the many American developed "non-lethal weapons" to appear on the market in the last decade. The cruise ship had a plan for dealing with pirate attacks, and successfully carried it out in this case, getting away with only minimal damage to the ship (several bullet holes, one passenger cabin damaged by an RPG rocket and one injured crewman). The cruise ship believed itself relatively safe from Somali pirates, as there have never been attacks that far off the coast. The two speedboats were either operating from a larger ship, knew when the cruise ship would be in the area, or were just very reckless and lucky. The attack was made at 5:30 AM, and when the cruise ship got up to top speed, it was able to get away from the smaller (20-25 feet long) and slower pirate craft. There were apparently fewer than a dozen pirates involved, and it is interesting to speculate on what would have happened if they had gotten on board and taken control of the cruise ship. Among the 151 affluent passengers were carrying 48 Americans, 22 Britons, 21 Canadians, 19 Germans and six South Africans. A mass mugging may have ensued, but hostage taking (for ransom) was also a possibility.

 


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