Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pirates and peacekeepers

Image taken by unnamed member of the crew of the Zhenhua 4,
showing two of the Somali pirates who tried to hijack the vessel (CCTV)

Yesterday saw a dramatic incident in the Gulf of Aden, during which a Chinese vessel was boarded by at least seven pirates pirates. But rather than surrender to the attackers, the crew of the Zhenhua 4 barricaded themselves inside their vessel and used whatever they could find to fend off the pirates during the five-hour ordeal.

Captain Peng Weiyuan told China Central Television that, "Nine pirates armed with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns overtook our ship with speedboats and boarded the vessel. The 30 crew members onboard the ship locked themselves inside their living quarters, using fire hydrants and firebombs to prevent the attackers from entering. We also radioed the situation to the piracy reporting center in Malaysia. The crew members were all so brave during the ordeal that the bandits failed to take over our ship."

Crewman from Zhenhua 4 prepares Molotov cocktails (CCTV)

While the Chinese mariners defended themselves, naval forces in the area sent response teams, including two helicopters and a warship. The aircraft buzzed the Zhenhua 4 and fired on the pirates, forced the boarders to flee. There are more photos like the ones posted above, taken by the Chinese crew, posted on the CCTV website.

Coincidentally, the Chinese government announced it is preparing to send a small naval force to the Horn of Africa to assist in the anti-piracy efforts. A couple of destroyers and a supply/support ship are expected to depart from their homeport on Hainan Island sometime around December 25, for a three month deployment.

Meanwhile, there has been an interesting twist in the way the United States government feels Somalia's lawlessness should be addressed: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that her government feels that UN peacekeepers should be sent to the country, going so far as to say Washington will be pushing the Security Council to authorize such an action before the year ends.

The only problem is that the UN feels that a stabilization force - not blue helmets - should be sent in first. This is, after all, only logical as there is no peace to be kept in Somalia. Only after law and order has been restored should a multinational peacekeeping force take over.

One idea put forth by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to increase the size of the African Union forces already in place in the region. Last month, he told the Security Council that a highly skilled force of about 10,000 troops is required to stabilize Somalia, after which a UN peacekeeping force of 22,500 should be deployed to Somalia. Ban apparantly contacted 50 countries to see if anyone was interested in volunteering their soldiers for such a force, but only one or two responded positively.

After all the years Washington and the UN have criticized each others political/military ideas, it seems a bit odd to hear the Secretary-General advocate peace enforcers while Rice trumpets peacekeepers.