Pirates attacked a French Command and Supply ship, the BCS Somme, apparently mistaking it for a commercial cargo transport. The French ship chased down one of the pirate skiffs and detained its five occupants about an hour after the initial attack, which occurred just after midnight Wednesday, local time.
The Somme is part of the European anti-piracy effort in the Horn of Africa region, carrying supplies for forces there. The ship’s appearance is similar to that of many cargo vessels from a distance, which probably accounts for the pirate’s error.
Piracy has been a major problem off the Somali coast for over two decades. It began as a way to harrass illegal fishing and garbage dumping, but as the Somali government crumbled in the early 1990s the pirates changed to theft, kidnapping and occasionally murder.
Since then, shipping companies have paid ransoms that have escalated from tens of thousands of dollars when the problem first began to millions of dollars today. Pirates, emboldened by the lack of response from the West and the increasing payoff of their illegal actions, have attacked larger and larger ships around the Horn of Africa, as well as parts of Indonesia, the Carribean and other coastlines. Since the end of the Cold War, where American and Soviet resources fueled national militaries and kept piracy largely a minimal nuisance, piracy has exploded into a world-wide problem. Earlier this year the large American ship Maersk Alabama was attacked, the first time in years a large American-registry vessel had been attacked by pirates. That incident lead to a days-long standoff between the American Navy and Somali pirates, who were eventually killed.
Around the same time and seeminly undettered by the Maersk Alabama incident, the Liberty Sun was also attacked.
Indeed, the problem seems to simmer as the months pass, occasionally boiling over with incidents such as the Maersk Alabama and the Somme. The government of Somalia is too weak to reign in even the minorest of petty warlords on its landmass; it is hardly equipped to deal with pirates at sea. The response of the West has hardly been a deterrent, as dozens of hijacked ships remain in the hands of the pirates with little or no retaliation. Even the shipping companies themselves, desperate to have their crews and ships back, pay ransoms that merely incentivize the pirates to commit more of their barbaric attacks.
While this incident will probably force the Somali pirates to be more careful in the future, ensuring they are attacking a civilian cargo vessel instead of a lightly-armed warship, it will not stem the tide of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Even after the incident with the Maersk Alabama, the pirates continue to attack ships registered to the Western powers who, either by political correctness or percieved diplomatic indecisivness, seem largely impotent to the threat.
Until Europe and America are willing to do something to stop the pirates–that is, until they are willing to attack and kill the pirates at their bases and destroy their skiffs and tenders–the pirates have no incentive to stop. They will continue to attack, seize and ransom the crews and cargoes of ships passing throughout the region. The increased risks will increase the cost of commerce that passes through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea or cause delays as ships attempt to navigate the Cape of Good Hope at the southern African tip, where foul weather is an equally serious problem.
Equally disturbing are those who think of the pirates as merely desperate people trying to survive. While probably true as each person starts, with piracy, the size and number of ransoms make this argument invalid. Millions of dollars are being handed over to sociopathic miscreants, for no other reason than those criminals have guns and our own militaries are unwilling to deal with them.
The ships are owned by Western nations. The cargoes are headed to Europe and the Americas. The commercial and energy life-blood of the West passes through the Gulf of Aden. Like a mosquito that carries a deadly virus, these small attacks are becoming a major problem affecting the economies of the West and the rest of the world. We must do something to stop this threat.
Originally posted at The Minority Report Blog.