"Modern" piracy used to be about ordinary theft; board a vessel, take what you can carry and get away.
The piracy problem around the Horn of Africa has entered a new phase in the past year. Large ships, with their crews, are being attacked, captured, and taken hostage for ransom.
2008 has seen 90 reported pirate attacks so far; double from 2007.
Piracy near the Horn of Africa has cost approximately $150 million in ransom over the past year.
The latest gig was the kidnapping of the laden VLCC "Sirius Star" on November, 21st, 2008; 450 miles out of the Kenyan coast, well outside the previous operating area of Somali pirates.
This was the largest ship ever to be taken by pirates.
Map depicting attempted (yellow) and succesfull (red) piracy acts around the Horn of Africa.
These pirates operate from small ports in Somalia, a failed state with no stable government for the past 17 years. Yemen seems to be another basis for pirates.
Somalia is awash with arms. Pirates have no problem equipping themselves with AK-47 automatic rifles, RPG's and machine-guns.
Originally, they operated close to the coastline, but have extended their range over 500 miles the past year, using "motherships" from where they deploy their small speedboats. These motherships are ocean-seized trawlers.
In fact, the whole passage between the Horn and the Arabian peninsula is now considered problematic, and an increasing number of passing vessels is captured.
Capture of a vessel usually means that the pirates take control of that vessel and deviate it to small Somali coastal towns. The crew members are generally not harmed, although resistance is treated harshlyand quite a few injuries and deaths have resulted. However: the main purpose of the hijackers is to obtain a substantial cash ransomfor crew and vessel. These ransoms are mostly inflated, but are negotiated down by the owners, but amount to millions of dollars per vessel.
A multinational group of warships patrols the area. Warships originate from countries who are stakeholders in a safe passage for their merchants; U.S., Russia, India, China, Malaysia, South-Korea, etc... A NATO taskforce is relieved by a European Union force in december 2008, with ships from 10 EU members, under UK command.
The problem is their soft "rules of engagement', given by their policy makers so far. Efforts by the EU and NATO proven futile. With a limited mandate, their ships cannot keep armed bandits from seizing merchant vessels and taking hostages.
The only exception is France. After the hijacking of superyacht "La Ponant", April 2008, the French military extracted pirates from Somali territory by helicopter, and shipped them of to Paris and justice. Read http://gcaptain.com/maritime/blog/la-ponant-captured-by-somali-pirates/ for this story.
In contrast: hijacking of airplanes has been dealt with in the past, in a much more decisive way, and is denied in any conceivable way.
Anti-piracy efforts are working elsewhere in the world. Pirates thrived in the Strait of Malacca, which is transited annually by 60,000 ships, but last year there were only 73 pirate attacks, down from 276 five years earlier. The decline is the result of a coordinated policing effort by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, with help from the U.S., which provided training and equipment. Captured pirates are tried in local courts. They aren't treated gently.
Ultimately, however, the problem of Somali lawlessness at sea cannot be addressed without reference to the ongoing crisis of de facto Somali statelessness on land. Unfortunately, while it may be finally willing to focus on the incidents of piracy, there is still little indication that the international community is either prepared or willing to confront the causes driving the phenomenon. Naval action alone will not fix the underlying causes of these attacks.
Sailors onboard the Chinese flagged merchat vessel "ZHEN HUA 4" fend of an attack by Somali pirates, december 2008, using a DIY-approach: throwing home-made molotov-cocktails, during a five-hour stand off with pirates onboard.
Read the whole article: http://gcaptain.com/maritime/blog/pirate-attack-photos-zhenhua-4/
It's a pathetic metaphor for the lack of definite no-no signal from the international community towards piracy in this part of the world.
These websites may assist you pass safely through this area:
And some thoughts on "Rules of Engagement" versus these pirates: http://homelandsecuritygroup.info/hsgblog/?p=258
Marc Van de Velde