The American crew of an U.S.-flagged freighter showed they had the right stuff in fending off an attempt to hijack their ship off the Horn of Africa, but piracy continues to afflict the region.
The Maersk Alabama, a 17,000-ton container vessel, was the target of an unsuccessful seizure off the Somali coast where it was carrying emergency food aid to nations in East Africa. The area is one of busiest shipping lanes in the world, and now, because of the pirate attacks it is perhaps the most dangerous.
The threat posed, though, is not just for the ships and their crews. The hijackings make it difficult to deliver food and other aid to the scene of some of the world's most serious humanitarian crises. If shipments can't go through, relief agencies will have to cut rations for hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.
Shipping lines and maritime insurance companies have boosted rates because of the danger, adding to the cost of shipping and forcing some carriers to avoid the region entirely. The cost of Saudi oil, Chinese computers, Japanese cars, African commodities, Indian manufactures and other goods shipped through the region all will rise because of this. Reduced traffic through the Suez Canal hurts Egypt, which gets up to 20 percent of its revenues from canal tolls. Indeed, we all pay for piracy.
A large group of nations including India, Russia, France, China and the U.S. have deployed warships near Somalia to stop the attacks, but the raiders have shifted tactics and ventured farther out to sea to avoid the patrols. Meanwhile, an international "contact group" has been organized to find ways to better share information, coordinate anti-piracy operations and strengthen the capacity of courts in the region to try suspected pirates.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in remarks this week, the solution to Somali piracy also depends on helping the new unity government in Somalia to better police its territory, and the international community will aid the government in this too to deal with the root causes of piracy on shore.
The latest attacks demonstrate that much remains to be done to end this maritime and humanitarian scourge.