Somalia's piracy problem is everyone's problem
'Arrghh matey' isn't so funny when you know what's at stake.
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With the exception of private pleasure craft attacked on occasion in the Caribbean, piracy no longer occurs around North America. In distant waters, few US built, flagged, or manned commercial ships ply their trade; therefore few US ships are affected. But while piracy may not present an immediate or direct threat to US national security interests, its consequences can affect everyone.Skip to next paragraph
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Insurance rates for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden are increasing 10-fold. The risk to personnel and cargo if a ship is hijacked is escalating, and tens of millions of dollars have already been paid out in ransom to pirates this year.
Piracy can affect local economies, too. Egypt, for example, earned $5 billion in the past year from ships transiting the Suez Canal. Some shipping companies have already begun diverting their ships around the Horn of Africa, further increasing their costs due to a longer transit and reducing revenue for Egypt. But as the hijacking of the Sirius Star far from the Gulf of Aden demonstrated, even the longer transit may not be as safe now.
Although speculation has been raised about ties between terrorist organizations and pirates, experts agree that it is just that – speculation. That said, an act of piracy may have occurred last week before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) when a Pakistani fishing vessel, the Kuber, was allegedly hijacked by the terrorists, its crew killed, and the boat used to convey the attackers to India.
The issue is not whether piracy is tied to terrorism, but rather how terrorists or others might employ piratical tactics. If nonstate actors find the tactic is sound and the defense against it untenable, then it will be used to conduct similar or more spectacular operations. How would nonstate actors or other future belligerents interpret any success by the pirates? Absent an effective response to lawlessness, Somali piracy may be a prism to view potential copycat killers.
The United Nations Security Council is rightly addressing this 21st-century incarnation of the age-old maritime challenge. Resolutions have been passed and coalitions made, individual state forces are patrolling the region, enhanced private maritime security is being explored, and long-term methods of appropriate state-level response being debated. While all the answers may not be here yet, everyone is at least asking the questions.
Claude Berube teaches at the US Naval Academy. His opinions are his own.