When I was a young girl, Captain Hook of Peter Pan fame probably best represented the image of a pirate in young minds. Sword in one hand, hook in the other, he was a menacing and unlikable figure, but not overly violent or threatening. After all, we knew that Peter Pan, Wendy, and the gang triumphed over Hook’s wicked ways. Pirates are not so easily thwarted on modern seas.
The past few weeks have seen numerous hijack attempts by pirates off the coast of Somalia. My heart goes out to the brave captains and crews of these ships, many of whom were bringing relief supplies for ailing nations. Why would pirates hurt their own countries by seizing control of these ships, which essentially guarantees the food and other supplies will not be delivered? Unlike piracy in the past, which looked to take entire ships or cargo loads, modern piracy focuses on kidnapping the crew and demanding a ransom for their release. What causes these types of changes?
A quick internet search yields some possible explanations. One must first consider the political state of Somalia, where most of the piracy is occurring. In a civil war since 1991, this country’s people face many hardships. Famine, street-fighting zones, and warlordism create despair and hopelessness. Desperation can cause people to do unthinkable things, and one of the last viable business opportunities in this part of the world is piracy. Unfortunately, according to many experts, stopping the Somalian piracy rampage with U.S. military force will be practically unattainable. The real problems lie not at sea, but on Somalia’s tainted land.
Seventeen years ago, the United States tried to assist in the problems facing Somalia, but after numerous helicopters were shot down and lifeless soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, U.S. military intervention was shut down. However, since 2007, U.S. officials have suspected al-Qaida of having operations based in Somalia. Recent speculation has also questioned al-Qaida’s involvement in piracy. It gets complicated, doesn’t it?
Pirates are getting bolder and expanding their regions, focusing on capturing larger ships to use as bases of operation. This allows them better opportunities to sneak up on unsuspecting vessels with their skiffs and speed boats. The number of reported incidents this year is seventy-eight so far; at least seventeen ships are currently being held for ransom with as many as 300 crew members aboard.
The piracy problem does not seem to be one likely to disappear on its own—or any time soon. President Obama has vowed to take action toward reducing piracy. He has not yet indicated how he might do that, but I hope he and his team can brainstorm some type of as-yet-untried solution. Life is precious, and we need to do everything we can to aid in the safety of crews and passengers on all sea-going vessels.