The high-seas confrontation over a hijacked cargo ship off the Somali coast is yet another reminder of the many crises facing that nation. It also should be a warning that if allowed to fester, conflict and political instability often respect no borders and one country's problems can become its neighbors' too.
Negotiations continue over the Belize-flagged Ukrainian freighter seized by Somali pirates September 25 and now monitored by U.S. warships seeking to prevent the unloading of its cargo of Soviet battle tanks and other heavy arms in Somalia.
In a sign of international concern, a Russian missile frigate is steaming to the scene to join the blockade, and the European Union is also vowing military action. The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, confronting political infighting and an armed insurgency, has admitted the obvious in that it cannot control the situation and has repeatedly asked for international assistance in combating such raiders in its waters.
The standoff has attracted worldwide attention, highlighting the fact that amid the instability ashore, the waters off Somalia have become the most dangerous and pirate-infested in the world, threatening international trade and the delivery of critical assistance from the World Food Program to Somalia, in the midst of the Horn of Africa’s most severe humanitarian crisis since the 1980s.
More than 25 vessels have been hijacked there this year, with the raiders demanding million dollar ransoms to free the ships and their crews – money that may end up funding operations by insurgents on land, and perhaps even terrorists.
The United States is seeking a peaceful resolution to the hijacking, while preventing the cargo from falling into the hands of anyone who would use it to further destabilize the region. Moreover, it calls on all parties to abide by the provisions of the peace agreement signed in Djibouti in June and to support its implementation to resolve a conflict so serious it can no longer be contained on dry land.