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Navy Pursues Pirates Who Grab Arms Shipment

Issue 349
Front Page
News Headlines
Local and Regional Affairs
Kgalema Motlanthe Sworn In as South Africa 's President
High Oil Prices Are A Threat To International Peace, Kenya President Warns
Navy Pursues Pirates Who Grab Arms Shipment
Somali Pirates' Unexpected Booty: Russian Tanks
US Should Join France And Somaliland In Combating Piracy
KULMIYE Statement On The Horn Of Africa
Features & Commentry
Shelterbox Offers Hope When Disaster Strikes
Somali Pirates Release Japanese Ship
Somali Pirates Turn Route to Suez Into `Most Dangerous' Waters
Kulmiye Leadership Should Quit Or Face History's Cruel Verdict


Kulmiye's Crisis And The Democracy In Somaliland


William Pentland 09.26.08, 4:25 PM ET

Somalian pirates may have gotten more than they bargained for when they hijacked a Ukrainian boat filled with arms, sparking pursuit from both the U.S. and Russian navies.

The ship, bound for Kenya , was taken in the Indian Ocean , a hotbed of pirate infestation. On board: some 30 T-72 battle tanks, which experts say the pirates will probably not be able to unload.

Now, U.S. and Russian ships are steaming toward the captured vessel. Lt. Commander Bill Speaks, a spokesman for the U.S. military, told The New York Times Friday afternoon, "We are aware of the situation and actively tracking it."

But while this assault is particularly brazen, it isn't anything new. The last 10 years have seen a worldwide renaissance of sea piracy. The growth of global commerce in the past two decades crowded the oceans with cargo vessels, dry-bulk carriers and supertankers loaded with every good imaginable. The world currently transports 80% of all international freight by sea. More than 10 million cargo containers are moving across the world's oceans at any given time.

The heavy ocean traffic (and its valuable cargo) spawned a surge in sea piracy and a new breed of pirates, the bloodiest the world has seen. More than 2,400 acts of piracy were reported around the world between 2000 and 2006, roughly twice the number reported for the preceding six-year period. Although pirate attacks have at least tripled during that time period, the actual number of attacks remains unclear. Shipping companies frequently do not report attacks out of concern that it could increase insurance premiums.

And nearly every group or government monitoring sea piracy believes that number is seriously undercounted. The Australian government estimates the actual number of piracy attacks is 2,000% higher. Piracy is estimated to cost between $13 and $16 billion every year and could cost substantially more in coming years.

"Piracy is not going away," says Peter Chalk, an international security analyst at the RAND Institute. "In fact, it's getting more serious and more violent, and its only a matter of time before you need to take it more seriously."

That's starting to happen. The potential of a disastrous environmental spill resulting from an attack finally forced the international community to clamp down on sea piracy. International law allows any government vessel to repress an act of piracy in international waters. On Oct. 30, 2007, two American destroyers, the USS Porter and the USS Arleigh Burke, attacked and sank two Somali pirate vessels after the pirates captured the Japanese tanker Golden Mori.

In June, the U.N. Security Council voted in favor of a new measure that would allow the U.S. military to engage Somalian sea pirates.

Somalia is not the only place with piracy outfits this organized; in fact, the country is a relative latecomer to contemporary sea piracy. Since 2000, southeast Asia has had the most dangerous waters in the world. Malaysia and the islands of the Indonesian archipelago have seen the lion's share of sea piracy since 2000. Also troubling: the waters off Nigeria and Iraq .

Unlike the pirates of yesteryear, contemporary sea piracy is frequently carried out by highly sophisticated criminal organizations made up of seasoned fighters and equipped with speedboats, satellite phones and global positioning systems. Recently captured Somali pirates claim they belonged to an organized militia that engaged in piracy to raise funds. Organizations have started attacking from more than one ship simultaneously using a number of quasi-military tactics.

Violence has become an endemic feature of privacy, particularly over the last five to 10 years. The birth of the illicit global arms trade that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 made it easier for many (who might feel less inclined to pursue piracy if they lacked guns) to become pirates, according to Chalk. The arms trade has made cheap and powerful weapons available in many parts of the world.

Five to six years ago, when pirates attacked, they used machetes, knives and pistols. "Today," says Noel Choong, the current director of the International Maritime Bureau's anti-piracy office in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia . "They come equipped with AK-47s, M-16s, rifle grenades and [rocket-propelled grenades]."

This not only poses an enormous risk in terms of human security, but also endangers maritime security. Attacked ships can be left unmanned, turning into rogue vessels. "In many maritime chokepoints where attacks often occur, this creates a serious risk of a collision," says Chalk.

"The truth is that modern piracy ... is a violent, bloody, ruthless practice," said Captain Jayant Abhyankar, Deputy Director of the International Maritime Bureau at a conference in Singapore, "made the more fearsome by the knowledge on the part of the victims that they are on their own and absolutely defenseless and that no help is waiting just round the corner."

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