Stability Can Help Fight Piracy

Piracy is neither new to the high seas nor to the Horn of Africa – which is the theatre of piracy for quite some time. But it seems the major powers, as well as regional players, are not taking the threat seriously.

It is amazing to believe that a handful of men have held a ship to ransom, and are preventing other vessels from navigating in the sea. This is not the first time they have done so; in fact, it is fast becoming a routine in that oceanic sector. The genesis of daredevil piracy, perhaps, lies in its economic orientation, and it is high time the developed world looked into the backwardness of the region in order to put an end to piracy in its totality.

The seizure of US-flagged, Maersk Alabama, carrying food aid to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, is one of the latest in a series of high-drama abductions in the same waters, including a Ukrainian ship and a Saudi supertanker in the recent past. But Alabama will long be remembered for the fact that its crew fought back, and the ensuing rescue operation left one Frenchman and two pirates killed. Captain Richard Philips, who tried to escape by jumping in the sea, is now being held hostage on a lifeboat hundreds of kilometers off the Somali coast. A ransom of $2 million is being sought. There is rising concern over the fate of Capt. Philips, and the authorities concerned need to ensure his secure release at the earnest.

It is a point of concern that piracy is on the rise in the waters busy with maritime traffic. And in these times of economic recession, such obstacles and threats on high seas badly impact trade and commerce activities. Moreover, the Intelligence Community’s 2009 Annual Threat Assessment noted, “The number of successful pirate attacks has increased almost fourfold since 2007, after the pirates received several multimillion-dollar ransom payments”. Perhaps, piracy begets more piracy. That seems to be the message.

Piracy is merely a symptom of the disease, which the region has contracted so easily because of abject poverty and socio-economic disparity. Apart from tactical measures, fighting piracy also requires a sustained socio-economic strategy. It is incumbent upon the world community, especially the major powers, to help salvage Somalia, and bring it back from the brink of a failed state, wracked by insurgency and lawlessness. Mogadishu has been without an effective government since 1991, fuelling lawlessness, which has allowed the pirates to thrive.

Efforts to stop the pirates have so far had limited success. If the menace has to be eliminated, the lethargic attitude of local authorities and lack of commitment on part of big naval powers has to go. Maritime security can only be ensured if land-based stability is achieved. Thus Somalia, and the region at large, is in need of stable and self-reliant governments, which can tactfully fight pirates and criminals on high seas with impunity.

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