NAIROBI, Kenya – Two daring commando raids by two nations in one day against Somali pirates show that some naval forces are taking a harder line, perhaps because nothing else they’ve tried has stopped the rise of lawlessness off the east coast of Africa.
The raids by South Korea and Malaysia on Friday could be a sign of more aggressive tactics to come – both by navies and by pirates responding to them. Experts say pirates could increasingly use hostages as human shields if raids become more common.
The European Union’s naval force refuses to raid hijacked ships out of concern for the safety of hostages, but frustration is rising. Despite patrols by an international flotilla of modern warships, drones patrolling the Indian Ocean off the east African coast and Arabian Gulf and diverse strategies employed, including the sinking of pirate boats, Somali pirates have been relentless.
They captured a record 1,016 hostages in 2010 and currently hold 32 vessels and 746 crew members of various nationalities after hijacking another six ships so far this year, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.
Eight crew members died and 13 were wounded in Somali pirate incidents in 2010, up from four dead and 10 wounded in 2009. There were no pirate killings elsewhere in the world in 2010.
The bureau said Somali pirates are operating more broadly than ever, from Oman on the Arabian Peninsula to Mozambique, more than 2,500 miles away in southeastern Africa. It also said navies have been more reluctant to intervene because pirates are using hijacked vessels to catch new prey.
Somalia’s long, lawless coastline snakes around the Horn of Africa and provides the perfect base for pirate dens. The country has not had a functioning government since a socialist dictatorship collapsed in 1991, plunging the nation into clan-based civil war.
South Korean commandos raided a cargo ship in the Arabian Sea before dawn Friday, killing eight Somali pirates and capturing five as they rescued all 21 crew members. The only crew member injured was the captain, who was shot in the stomach by a pirate; South Korea’s military said his condition was not life-threatening.
A 4 1/2-minute video released Sunday by South Korea’s military shows commandos in a small boat readying to climb onto the freighter amid gunshots. Later, the commandos are seen trying to enter a door and then bringing out some hostages, with a navy helicopter shining searchlights on the vessel.