Somalia: The Pirates Are Winning


May 7, 2009: The Western "catch and release" tactics against the Somali pirates are failing. The pirates are encouraged by the fact that the foreign warships will not shoot. At most, pirates will usually be disarmed then released to take their speedboats back to shore. There, the pirates can obtain new weapons, and be back on the hunt the next day. While the "catch and release" methods take some pirates out of circulation, and prosecute a minority of them (the French, Americans and a few other catch and prosecute, or even kill, but that is considered barbarous and excessive by many Western nations), the pirates have learned to adapt. Thus, while the naval patrols reduced the pirate success rate early on (only 8 percent of pirate attacks succeeded in January 2009, versus 40 percent for all of 2008), the 2009 success rate has steadily increased. It averages 23 percent so far this year, but was running at 2008 rates in April. Worse, the pirates are now operating far (up to 1,500 kilometers) off the east coast, as well as in the Gulf of Aden, and are attacking at nearly double the rate of last year (when 115 ships were attacked). In other words, the pirates are winning. The shipping companies are willing to tolerate the higher level of captures, because they simply pay the higher insurance rates, plus some danger pay to some of the crews, and keep issuing press releases deploring the situation. The fact of the matter is that, even if twice as many ships are captured as last year, this still means that over 99 percent of the ships moving through the area are not bothered. As long as the pirates aren't killing people, the shipping companies can tolerate the inconvenience.

Although France and the U.S. have used their commandos against the pirates, Germany tried to, but withdrew at the last minute because the risk of people getting hurt was considered too high. It's becoming fashionable in the West to view the pirates as displaced (by rapacious foreign fishing fleets) fishermen driven to piracy in order to feed their starving families. This is a fantasy, but a popular one (with a small grain of truth, just enough to keep it going.)

The Somali government (a coalition of more moderate factions, and once called the  Transitional National Government, or  TNG), is now run by more moderate Islamic radicals, and is asking the UN to get Eritrea and Iran to stop providing more radical groups (like al Shabaab) with money and weapons. Eritrea got involved because Ethiopia is involved (because Ogaden, a province of Ethiopia, is full of rebellious ethnic Somalis, and raiders from Somalia operate inside Ethiopia if they can get away with it.)

May 6, 2009: A Burundian peacekeeper was killed in Mogadishu. There are several hundred Islamic radical, al Shabaab, gunmen in the city, trying to drive the government forces out. They are not having much success. Similar operations are taking place throughout central Somalia. Al Shabaab is outnumbered, but are determined and allied with some other Islamic terrorist groups. This has driven another 25,000 civilians across the border into Kenyan refugee camps. Even more civilians have fled to other parts of Somalia. While most Somalis would like some kind of peace, all have adapted to anarchy.

May 3, 2009: Pirates agreed to free a ship full of food and goods owned by Somali merchants. The pirates were paid a small fee for their trouble, but not the usual multi-million dollar ransom.




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