Naval security forces from several nations are stepping up efforts to combat pirates attacking and often highjacking cargo ships and other vessels off the coast of Somalia. The patrols have had some success in fighting off the raiders, but policing an area roughly three times the size of France has proved a challenge and ships are still being seized.
If the pirates are to be stopped and security restored to one of the world’s important shipping routes, stronger and better-coordinated action must be taken.
The United Nations Security Council has adopted a series of resolutions approving increasingly aggressive operations in both Somali and international waters. Most recently, the Security Council approved a measure authorizing countries cooperating with the Somali Transition Federal Government to use all means necessary on land as well as the sea to bring the pirates to account, as well as develop effective judicial means to try them for their crimes. A spokesman for Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf said his government welcomes the move.
Naval forces from India, Russia, the United States and the European Union now operate along the Somali coast in anti-piracy patrols. As a measure of the growing international concern over the attacks and highjackings, China is planning to send ships to the region as well.
Somali pirates this year have attacked about 120 ships in a region, as well as the Gulf of Aden, a transit point for traffic through the Suez Canal. It is an enormous area, stretching from Kenya to the Horn of Africa, and even with air observation, patrolling it is a daunting task. The pirates, equipped with global positioning systems and satellite telephones and armed with rocket grenade launchers, hit their prey quickly in high-powered speedboats. They can attack and board a ship in as little as 20 minutes, and if a naval escort isn’t nearby little can be done to aid the crew or prevent a highjacking. About 40 ships are currently being held, including a Ukrainian freighter with 30 Soviet-era battle tanks and a Saudi tanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil.
“Piracy currently pays,” said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “But worse, pirates pay few costs for their criminality.”
Pursuing the raiders to bases on shore if necessary may not end the attacks, but knowing they have no refuge on land could make them think twice before they act. It will also send a strong message to the insurgent groups fighting the Somali government and who are believed to be in league with the pirates and sharing in the ransom money collected in releasing a highjacked ship. Stronger action must be taken, for the good of the Somali people, the region and all who rely on goods shipped through those waters in world trade.