Sunday, May 18, 2008

Shiver me Timbers! Pirates!

Ahoy me hearties! Blow me down, shiver me timbers, there be modern pirates in the waters today. That's right, sailing on the open sea involves many risks, and if you happen to be sailing in the waters off the Somali coast, one of the biggest dangers is that you'll be boarded by pirates. For the most part it seems these scurvy dogs aren't in it for the booty on board the vessels, but for the money involved in ransoming the crews and passengers. This area has seen a dozen attacks this year and three in recent weeks.

However, surprisingly, the horn of Africa isn't the most dangerous place in the world when it comes to the number of pirate attacks worldwide. In fact, it's the area around Nigeria that is the worst, replacing the area around Indonesia as the hottest spot for pirate attacks, but it's the Somali attacks that have been given the most press, and along with Nigeria will continue to rise in number and scale. In Nigeria, the main reason is oil, and the fact that there are even more attacks than are probably reported due to the fact that oil companies wish to keep the attacks quiet, giving would be pirates added incentive. Somalia's attacks are poised to grow even faster with a perfect storm environment of lack of central government, demand for money to buy arms and an international community that has shown itself willing to give in to ransom demands.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since 1991 and has an 1,880 mile coastline, the longest in Africa. There is a Transitional Federal Government, but it is just a nice sounding name for a group of warlords backed by Ethiopia that claims it can do nothing to stop the attacks. Funny enough, the attacks all but stopped in the six months period when the Somali Council of Islamic Courts controlled much of the country in 2006. It's become a highly lucrative business, especially of late. After Somali pirates seized a French luxury yacht on April 4th and held its crew of 30 for a week, Super Sarkozy sent in the troops along with $2 million in cash, which was only partially recovered. Later in the month a Spanish fishing boat off the coast of Somalia was taken, with their release only being secured with a reported $1.2 million ransom. Now, just this weekend pirates have taken a Jordanian flagged ship bringing humanitarian aid to Mogidishu. Doesn't sound as profitable does it? Not until you find out the Jordanians have a deal with the Danish government to protect their ships in the area. Ka-Ching! The International Maritime Bureau says 49 attacks were reported in the first 3 months of 2008, up from 41 in 2007, but with the profits rising, this number sould skyrocket in the months to come.

As the battle over control of Somalia continues, more and more people will turn to this business. If there aren't links with terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda yet, there is sure to be soon. The US and France have introduced a draft resolution to the UN security council that would allow foreign governments to pursue pirate vessels into Somalia's territorial waters and make arrests. The last time I checked though the Americans were caught up in too many other battles to commit enough resources to help. Besides, haven't they seen Black Hawk Down?