Tags: somalia | piracy

Rampant Piracy Threatens Somalia's Coast

Thursday, 20 Nov 2008 03:26 PM

By Ralph Hostetter

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While the nation's attention has been focused on President-elect Barack Obamania and the international financial crisis, a major problem has developed on the seas off the Somalian coastline of Africa.

High seas piracy has returned in a rampant manner after nearly two centuries of relative peace on the oceans of the world. An astounding 93 piracy attacks this year alone have resulted in the capture of 37 ships.

At present, 14 ships with their crews are being held. One of these is the 2 million barrel tanker, Sirius Star, operated by the Saudi Arabia government and valued at $120 million with a cargo of $100 million worth of oil. A $20-million ransom is being demanded.

To date, some 30 million dollars in ransom has been paid to pirate groups since the attacks began.

The world had been free, for the most part, of high seas piracy for nearly 200 years.

The United States began its early years in confrontations with pirates during a period from 1803 to 1815.

American ships at this time were being captured and their crews enslaved in an area of North Africa called the Barbary Coast, along the Mediterranean, comprising the four nations of Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, and Tripoli.

The story of one of the American ships captured during this time is well worth repeating.

That ship was the USS Philadelphia, captured by pirates and taken to the seaport of Tripoli.

Fearing the Philadelphia would be used by the pirates for future attacks against American ships, the U.S. Navy dispatched the USS Intrepid, with a small detachment of U.S. Marines under the command of 25-year-old Lt. Stephen Decatur, to set fire to the Philadelphia.

Stephen Decatur's courage had been demonstrated earlier in confrontation with the Barbary pirates.

The ship that he commanded, as he conducted his heroic night raid, had been one of the Barbary pirates' own ships, the Mastico. Decatur had captured this ship in bitter hand-to-hand combat about a month earlier and had renamed it the USS Intrepid.

His heroic action has been memorialized in the "Marines' Hymn" of the U.S. Marine Corps, in the line, "To the shores of Tripoli." Today, piracy does not involve two ships of equal size confronting each other in open combat. Modern day pirates are hi-tech. They use powerful boats capable of great speed carrying small boarding parties, equipped with grenade launchers and AK-47s.

Loaded tankers are the principal targets because they ride lower in the water due to the weight of their cargo.

The pirates are now attacking farther out to sea than in past years, leading authorities to believe they are operating from mother ships.

Normally, pirates operate in waters bordering a nation that accepts their activities and shares in the booty.

Present-day piracy flourishes off the coast of Somalia. It is not that the government of Somalia approves of piracy; it is simply the fact that Somalia does not have an effective government and, for the most part, no effective government has existed since 1991.

Somalia has an extensive coastline of some 1,700 miles, extending the entire length of the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa. All shipping entering and leaving the Suez Canal must pass some area of Somalia's coastline.

At present, about 20,000 ships pass through the Suez Canal each year. This compares to some 13,000 ships that pass through the Panama Canal.

NATO and allied nations in the region are beginning to organize and take action against the pirates.

The Indian Navy reported this week that marine commandos operating from one of its ships prevented a capture of an Indian merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

A recent hijacking occurred Saturday, Nov. 15, involving the Saudi Arabian tanker MV Sirius Star, with a crew of 25. Somali pirates took control of the vessel with its 2 million barrels of oil far south of the Gulf of Aden, in an area beyond the regular patrol region of the combined NATO fleets.

The stepped-up defensive activity of the combined action of NATO forces is having a positive effect. It is now estimated that the piracy is down by some 20 percent.

Terrorism, generally speaking, around the world continues to prosper. It seems as soon as one area of the world is being brought under control, another area of concern springs up.

When one considers how many ways the lifestyles of all people around the world have been changed, and changed in different ways in every activity of life, the only conclusion is that terrorism works very well for the terrorists.

Terrorism will continue until the world comes to the realization that tough penalties are needed.

Rapid trials that end with convictions should offer no more than two appeals. Convictions upheld must be carried out, including those that carry the death penalty.

Those who do not believe the death penalty serves as a deterrent should consider how many criminals who undergo execution ever come back to commit another capital offense.

The record shows there are too many cases where the murderer or rapist returns to commit the same crime twice.

E. Ralph Hostetter, a prominent businessman and agricultural publisher, also is a national and local award-winning columnist. He welcomes comments by e-mail: eralphhostetter@yahoo.com.

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