Who will stop the pirates?
American merchant sailors showed their mettle in retaking a hijacked ship, but piracy off Somalia continues to vex the international community.
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Among other things, he says, maritime powers should go after the pirates' bases of operation. In the case of the Somali pirates, he adds, that means taking seriously the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the pirates and the Shebab Islamist organization that controls Somalia.Skip to next paragraph
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The two groups do not seem to have an ideological link, says Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, but evidence suggests each benefits from the other: The pirates pay "taxes" for their haven and to avoid being shut down. The two groups have trained each other in martial and maritime skills, he adds.
More worrisome still, says Gartenstein-Ross, is the link Shebab has developed with Al Qaeda.
"If you take the communications we know exist between the two, add Al Qaeda's stated hope of bankrupting the global economy, and mix in the devastating impact of a skyrocketing price of oil because of some dramatic act of piracy against oil tankers, you see why we could wake up some day wishing we'd done a lot more to stop the Somali pirates."
Given the "ripple effects" of pirates' actions throughout the global economy, the world must do more to stop them, agrees Larry Howard, chairman of the Global Business and Transportation Department at State University of New York Maritime College. But the necessary international tools already exist in the 1958 Geneva Conventions on the Law of the Sea, he says.
"It grants any signatory, and that includes the US, the authority to chase pirates down, try them, and deal with them," Mr. Howard says. "We don't need new laws; all we need is the political will to do it."
The Alabama hijacking also suggests that heightened security concerns have led to maritime crews assuming a more alert and defensive posture.
"The orders used to be to the crew and passengers of a hijacked plane to do what the bad guys want you to do, but the events of 9/11 changed all that," says SUNY Maritime College's Howard. "By the same token, [this event] may have served notice that we're not going to be passive with this modern-day pirate activity either."
The Alabama's crew may have been especially prepared for the pirates who tried to take their ship. The ship's second in command is a graduate of the Massachusetts maritime Academy – where the mariner's father teaches a course in how to deal with pirates, notes Howard.
Merchant ships are unarmed, he says, but crews are trained in the use of high-pressure fire hoses and other resources onboard for turning back or subduing pirates.