Even as the international community works to coordinate maritime patrols and other efforts to halt the attacks, pirates continue to interfere with shipping off the coast of Somalia. The United States is providing the leadership necessary to ensure that more is done to preserve freedom of navigation and maritime safety on the high seas.
Since late last year, more than a dozen nations have deployed naval vessels in the region to improve security for ships carrying humanitarian relief, including vital shipments for the World Food Program, as well as oil, freight, and other important cargo.
Their presence has made the pirates re-assess their tactics, but has not deterred them. According to the International Maritime Bureau, world piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first 3 months of 2009 compared to that period in 2008, a surge almost entirely due to increased Somali pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
Ambassador Stephen Mull, a senior advisor on international political and security affairs at the U.S. State Department, told a congressional panel recently that among other steps in a comprehensive anti-pirate strategy, the U.S. is working to persuade nations whose ships are attacked to detain pirates captured in the raids and prosecute them in their courts. To date, legal uncertainties or perceived lack of evidence have caused some countries to release pirates captured in assaults on their ships.
This sends the wrong signal on criminal liability, however, and the pirates should be held accountable for their actions. The U.S. is doing so in trying in a New York City federal court the surviving member of the gang that held hostage the captain of the Maersk Alabama after an attack last month.
If such a legal strategy is adopted along with other steps being taken, it will pay dividends for years to come. While the focus is off the Somali coast today, 5 years ago pirates were targeting shipping in Asia's Malacca Strait. Five years from now, the problem could spread to another high-risk area. An international effort is needed that can handle the threat of piracy wherever it emerges.