The Pirates Are Back….but no Johnny Depp this time

Suspected Somali pirates captured by security forces

The popular perception of pirates held by most in the West is a mixture of the funny best exemplified by the movie franchise Pirates of the Caribbean and the downright silly, yet perfectly harmless characters in our literary history. These misconceptions can be forgiven since piracy in the First World has long since disappeared.

However, piracy is experiencing a renaissance in East Africa these days. The Gulf of Aden, the body of water where the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet, has become a haven for Somali pirates who prey on the international shipping that passes through the area. Since the collapse of a government in Somalia some 17 years ago, piracy has mostly gone unchecked in the area and has become more lucrative. Only yesterday, Somali pirates hijacked two ships off of the Somali coast, bringing their tally for 2008 to 30 hijacked ships in total.

A multinational naval force headquartered in Djibouti is patrolling the Gulf of Aden to ward off pirates, but the piracy has become very lucrative in recent years as Patrick Barkham explains:

Andrew Linnington of the maritime union Nautilus says piracy has got worse because successful demands for large ransoms have inspired “copycat” attacks. Linnington argues that ship owners are not doing enough to protect their vessels and crew and must invest in better alarm systems, CCTV, electric fences on ships and, in some cases, armed guards.

Ransoms upwards of 1 million dollars are being paid to the pirates, creating a market for more pirates to join their ranks since the economic prospects in Somalia are nowhere near those levels. Even the UN has addressed the issue and has passed a resolution allowing ships into Somali waters in case of piracy or to stop hijackings from occurring.

What piracy does is akin to what organized crime does anywhere else: it adds another tax to those doing business, thus making business more difficult and costly. Encouraged by ransom payments, a tipping point will be reached and the pirates will have to be dealt with in a more convincing manner.

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