Civilization walks the plank
A Somali pirate and a former US defense secretary are flying to London for vacation. One of them is stopped at immigration at Heathrow airport and arrested on suspicion of committing war crimes. Which one do you think it was?
On Tuesday, Somali pirates, sailing in little more than motorized bathtubs, armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and sustained by raw fish and narcotics, successfully hijacked the Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned oil tanker the size of a US aircraft carrier. The tanker was carrying some $100 million worth of crude oil. News of its capture caused global oil prices to rise by a dollar a barrel.
The next day, Somali pirates attempted to hijack the Trafalgar, a British frigate, but were forced to flee by a German naval helicopter dispatched to the scene. They did manage to hijack a Chinese trawler and a cargo ship from Hong Kong. They nearly got control of an Ethiopian ship, but it, too, was saved by the German Navy that heeded its call for help in time.
Piracy is fast emerging as the newest old threat to stage a comeback in recent years. Over the past week and a half alone, 12 vessels have been hijacked. And according to the International Maritime Bureau, in the three months that ended on September 30, Somali pirates attacked 26 vessels, capturing 576 crew members. Britain's Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) assesses the ransoms they netted at between $18m. and $30m.
And with financial strength comes increased military sophistication. The US Navy expressed shock at the pirates' successful hijacking of the Sirius Star. The pirates staged the hijacking much farther from shore than they had ever done previously.
Beyond the personal suffering incurred by thousands of crew members taken hostage in recent years, piracy's potential impact on global economic stability is enormous. In the Gulf of Aden, where the Somali pirates operate, US shippers alone transport more than $1.5 trillion in cargo annually. snip