November 25, 2008

Modern Pirates

Twenty first century, top technology everywhere, the orbit full of satellites, surveillance systems in every corner, and even with that, pirates, with nothing more than some old AK-47 rifles and small vessels, keep on hijacking ships (no matter the size) in a chaotic country, with no effective government.

That country is Somalia, one of the poorest countries on Earth, where the GDP per capita is around $600 USD a year. It has been in a Civil War since 1988 and the "authorities" of the country have no resources to control piracy, which threatens not only the commercial ships that navigate through the Indian Sea but also the ships transporting aid to many African countries. The activity has become an extraordinary business, as the ransoms the pirates get payed to liberate the ships are between $300,000 and $1.5m USD. So the pirates have now started to use luxurious goods, build residences and have jet set life styles in a country where most of the people is starving.

From the beginning of 2008 until late November, around 100 ships have been hijacked by Somali pirates. But the pirates have high standards, and don't mind to call the world's attention and still have control over their "business". That was demonstrated when they hijacked the Sirus Star, a Saudi Arabian oil tanker with 2 million barrels of oil, which is one quarter of the daily production of Saudi Arabia. The ship has 25 crew members, who are said to be safe, and the pirates have been negotiating a ransom with the ship owners. If the ransom is payed, other pirates will have the incentive to continue hijacking ships, but with no effective government in the country, and with the Americans being reluctant to interfere, the solution to the piracy in the region, and to Somalia's crisis, seem very far.
At least, for the case of the Sirus Star, the Islamic extremists are considering to act against the pirates, as the ship contains Saudi Arabian property. That shows how chaotic the situation is.

Finally, a memorable quote of General William Ward, the head of the US Africa command:
"Piracy is a very complex issue. The oceans are large oceans. I don't know if you would ever have enough vessels to have coverage of the entire ocean,". Amazing justification, or not?

For more about Somalia's conflict, check the BBC special site , and the BBC World Service special reports on the crisis.

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