Global piracy is now one of the biggest threats to world shipping, far eclipsing the risk from terrorism, and Somalia "a war-torn realm in almost complete anarchy" has fast become one of the world's pirate hot spots. Since March 15 this year, there have been 32 attacks off Somalia. In 2004, there were just two attacks, in 2003, three, and in 2002, six. In the first nine months of 2005, there were 205 pirate attacks worldwide. Murders by pirates are also rising. In 2004, 30 crew members were killed. In 2003, the figure was 21.
The favoured tactic of the Somali pirates is to capture the vessel and crew, take it to one of their safe havens around Mogadishu and hold the hostages for ransoms of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Today, some seven vessels and more than 100 sailors, from countries including Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines and the Ukraine, are held captive by the pirates pending the ransom payment. When the ransom is received the ship, cargo and crew are all freed.
And there was a recent attack on a cruise ship. It was repelled when they used a sonic gun capable of damaging hearing at 300 yards. I guess they were a bit concerned they might not be able to use their iPods ever again so they beat it out of there.
I guess the sound was unpleasant enough for them but what if they had had ear plugs or were listening to some theme music while they rampaged? Sounds a bit too neutral a weapon to me. Maybe they'll develop something that fires asbestos into the air as the pirates approach. Concerned about cancer they will break off.
Andrew Linnington of the UK maritime union Numast said the waters off Somalia should be declared a war zone. "It's got to the stage where it's anarchy," he said.
The International Maritime Bureau has made a direct request to the Royal Navy to intervene in east African waters. The Ministry of Defence promised that if there were navy vessels in the area and intelligence of piracy then the Royal Navy "would undertake action in pursuit of pirates and help to deal with the problem."
UK shipping minister Stephen Ladyman is supporting a move by the International Maritime Organisation for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution to deal with Somali piracy. UK ships are now under advice to keep a minimum of 150 nautical miles from the Somali coast.
If they Security Council votes a resolution and the Somali warlords violate it what then? I hear that violating a UN resolution is not a sufficient casus belli. But maybe I heard wrong.
I once used an example of pirates seizing a ship in my international business law class. I think the students thought it to be an anachronism. Looks like it wasn't.