Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Somali pirates branching out into other things?

Things have again been somewhat quiet off the Horn of Africa, owing to the sea conditions created by monsoon winds. This is a cyclical pattern like the summer monsoon, which makes it a bit safer for mariners transiting the region, though things will soon heat up again.

Yesterday saw a somewhat dramatic incident in which the Danish destroyer Absalon sank a suspected pirate gang's mothership off the eastern coast of Somalia, a pro-active event that many have hoped would occur. The Absalon is part of a NATO flotilla that also includes the American warship USS Boone, the Canadian frigate HMCS Fredericton and the British frigate HMS Chatham. (For more on the incident see here, here and EagleSpeak's great post here - Danish treat, indeed.)

But it appears that while things have been slow on sea for the pirates, the gangs have found another way to keep themselves busy and possibly make some money: hijacking UN World Food Programme trucks carrying aid through areas controlled by warlords. As reported by the BBC, three trucks and their drivers are being held by criminals in the Somali pirate port of Eyl, the first time such an incidence has occurred in that region of the country.

While pirates have previously hijacked vessels carrying humanitarian assistance to Somalia, this appears to mark the first time they have conducted land-based attacks against foreign targets. And the implications should be clear here: As we shut down the abilities of pirates to attack vessels and mariners at sea, they will turn their focus to other opportunities. Remember, these are skilled and well-armed guys whose main impetus is making money through the taking of hostages. So the problem of dealing with pirates off East Africa has moved to another level, a land-based level, which is where it will ultimately need to be addressed.

Unaddressed, these sorts of issues always come back to haunt us. Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda, militia warlords, pirates - there are a variety of things going on in Somalia that will affect that region as a whole, and merit the international community's attention.

Also, see this Reuters piece about coal shipments from South Africa (here). Things will most certainly get tougher for mariners in the next few months.

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