Somalia: Why Pirates Thrive And Cannot Be Defeated

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September12, 2008:  The Transitional National Government (TNG), and its Ethiopian allies are still trying to work out political and economic agreements. While the TNG represents the majority of Somalis (or at least according to population controlled by clans and warlords), the smaller number of groups allied with the religious radicals of the Islamic Courts are more disciplined and militarily effective. But the Islamic groups are not powerful enough to dominate and rule the majority.

The natural state of Somalia, over the last few centuries, has been violent anarchy. For the last century, however, order was imposed, first by colonial governments, and then by post-colonial dictators. But Somali dictators have been unable to maintain their rule over the entire region known as "Somalia." A government of sorts was always found in some of the coastal towns, which enabled trade with the outside world. But this has been threatened by the recent growth of piracy. Some warlords are taking over coastal villages and running piracy operations from them. This is possible because of the current anarchy. In the past, piracy was suppressed by foreign navies destroying the towns of villages the pirates used as bases. This is no longer politically acceptable, and no one is yet willing to send troops ashore to fight the warlords who created and maintain the pirate operations. The nations with the military forces able to go into Somalia (like the U.S., Britain and France) are well aware of the region's history, and the willingness of the Somalis to just keep fighting. The availability of speedboats, satellite radio and GPS have made it possible to conduct piracy deep into the Straits of Aden (a major choke point for international shipping). Many nations are sending warships to try and control the pirates at sea, without going ashore. This will be expensive, but is believed to be ultimately less expensive than skyrocketing insurance rates for ships.

At least someone is trying to do something about the growing pirate activity off Somalia's north coast. As the risk of ships getting seized in the Gulf of Aden passes one percent, the maritime insurance companies have raised premiums (covering passage through the 1,500 kilometer Straits of Aden) from an average of $900 to $9,000. That's expected to go higher because, when you do the math, you realize that the current increase does not quite cover the million dollars per ship ransom (which is also going up.) The insurance increase has made certain that all ships moving through the area are aware of the pirate risk, and more ships are alert enough to spot and speed away from the pirates. Most ships moving through the Straits of Aden have a top speed in excess of what the pirate speedboats can achieve. But the larger ships take time to reach their top speed, and the trick is to rev the engines of the larger ship soon enough to get away from the approaching pirate speedboats. This requires posting more lookouts (because the speedboats are low enough in the water to not show up well, if at all, on the navigation radar of larger ships). The pirates will continue to go after the ships that they can catch, and these will tend to be the smaller and slower ones from poor (often Moslem) nations. That could have interesting repercussions.

September 8, 2008: An American warship caught 14 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, arrested them and destroyed their boats. Inside Somalia, the group that seized a Canadian journalist last month, are demanding a $2.5 million ransom for her release.

September 5, 2008: Ten ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden during the last two months.

 

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