The year is 2008 and lately you can’t read the newspaper without seeing the word ‘pirate attack.’ In September it was an Ukrainian ship full of armaments, a couple days ago it was the giant oil tanker Sirius Star, yesterday it was an Iranian-owned and Hong Kong-flagged vessel carrying wheat, and earlier today the Indian Navy stopped another pirate attack off the Horn of Africa. The pirates are mainly from the failed state of Somalia (Here is a great map of pirate attacks!) and they are becoming braver and more dangerous everyday.
Why are they so dangerous to world security and international commerce? While, it is mainly because there is no really anyone there to stop them or deter them. Besides the Indian Navy’s recent successful counterattack, these Somali sea criminals have largely been rewarded for their actions, collecting tremendous ransoms for the ships, goods, and hostages. Nations and companies have continually given in to the perpetrators as they are left with very little options. In return, the pirates gain wealth and the ability to increase their weapons and capacity to continue the criminal practice again and again.
Now, along with the Indian Navy, the US and NATO are in charge of patrolling the Gulf of Aden, Horn of Africa, Indian Ocean, and other near by waterways where the pirates are most active, but their mandate is too weak. The US has the most powerful blue water navy in the world by far, yet it does not have legitimate rights to police pirates unless they are in the act of committing a crime. This lack of international agreement on policing the sea criminals combined with their ingenuity and stealth maneuvers make them difficult targets.
The negative consequences of these attacks goes beyond the ships companies and personnel involved in them, as higher insurance and transportation rates are slowly driving up prices for goods transported through the Gulf region. Just the news of the Sirius Star takeover caused oil prices to uptick.
The US, India, and NATO should organize a more comprehensive international agreement/pact, which would layout clearer methods of countering the pirate scourge, including more aggressive policing. There also needs to be some form of international agreement concerning negotiations for captured ships, though this will be difficult as narrow business and national interests will likely clash. Lastly, the root of the problem is a lack of opportunity in the state of Somalia. Young men who have chosen the life of a pirate need to have other more legitimate options at making a living. Aaarghhh, this is a tough issue! (Nominated for best joke on GPP)
PS: Scholar Donald Puchala wrote a fascinating article comparing the war on terrorism to the 1700s war on piracy. Of Pirates and Terrorists