Piracy should be forcefully ended

Piracy, once all but extinct, has seen a sharp increase since 2007 in Somalia. This politically and socially unstable country has become a breeding ground for pirates — who have been making a living capturing merchant vessels and ransoming them for millions of dollars.

Somalia is adjacent to one of the most highly trafficked shipping routes in the world and merchant vessels often have small, unarmed crews. According to the International Chamber of Commerce, 26 vessels were hijacked by Somali pirates with 537 crew members taken hostage in the third quarter of 2008 alone.

The U.S. and several European and Asian countries have responded by increasing their military presence in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden. China deployed ships to Somali waters in December — taking part in an international military action for the first the time since the People’s Republic was established in 1949. More than 20 nations have joined together to form a counter-piracy task force, CTF-151, which patrols the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

An increased military presence is a good start, but piracy will continue as long as businesses are willing to pay hefty ransoms. On Feb. 5, Somali pirates released the Ukrainian cargo ship, MV Faina, and its crew after 134 days of captivity. The captain died of a heart attack, but none of the crew were killed and the controversial cargo — 33 Soviet-era battle tanks and other heavy weapons — was intact. The pirates escaped with a $3.2 million ransom from the ship’s owner, despite constant surveillance by the U.S. Navy since the vessel’s capture in September.

The Kenyan government was highly critical of this result. Adan Keynan, chairman of Kenya’s parliamentary Committee on Defense and Foreign Relations, told AFP reporters, “We are deeply concerned that people are still paying criminals. These are international criminals who will never stop their activities unless we eliminate this issue of ransom. Piracy should never be rewarded and pirates must be dealt with.”

The increase of piracy has its roots on land — in a poor, war-torn country with an unstable government. Many young Somali men are turning to piracy because it is the only way to make a good living. Illegal commercial fishing has destroyed the livelihood of local fisherman and is seen as one of the main causes of piracy.

The fishermen are joined by former militiamen — with weapons acquired from neighboring countries — and technical experts, with satellite phones and GPS. The pirates are held together by the prospect of  high ransoms, which are usually around $2 million.

Pirates are the wealthiest, most fashionable people in Somalia. Abdi Farah Juha, a resident of Garowe, the capital, said in an interview with the BBC: “They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars, new guns.” They are local celebrities, and piracy is seen as the most promising career path for Somali youth.

Piracy must be attacked on all fronts. Businesses must stop paying ransoms and the United Nations must increase military protection for commercial vessels. The most important aspect is social reform, but it may prove to be the most difficult. The United States’ wars in the Middle East have shown that order cannot be restored to unstable regions through military force alone — social reform is essential.

While naval forces are patrolling for pirates, they can also work to stop the illegal fishing operations. Discouraging piracy and protecting traditional fishing practices will encourage Somali seamen to return to legal business endeavors. An increase in fishing would help the entire country’s economy. Foreign aid is also needed to provide adequate food, water and housing for the impoverished region.

International businesses should be encouraged to aid reform efforts in Somalia. These businesses will save money in the long run because reform will reduce the risk of losing a cargo ship or having to pay a large ransom. Businesses paid Somali pirates between $30 million and $50 million in 2008 alone, according to strategypage.com.

The recent international response is a sign that many businesses and countries around the world are willing to work together to stop piracy. As long as they pursue socially oriented strategies, there is a foreseeable resolution to this problem.

Michael Hardcastle is a freshman majoring in creative writing.