There is a political debate in London, hub of the world’s maritime industry, attempting to find the best way to permanently “disrupt the business model of piracy” in the high-risk area (HRA) that involves the Gulf of Aden, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. No legislative body outside of Africa is more engaged in the Somali-piracy issue than the UK Parliament. And there is no easy solution to the piracy problem.
Somalia’s failed-state condition has thrown several thousand impoverished gunmen into an underworld economy fueled by $1 million plus ransoms on hijacked merchant ships and crews (and the occasional yacht). Nation-building efforts in Somalia would be incredibly costly to outside nations, dangerous to execute and uncertain in terms of results. Coalition naval forces have been highly successful against pirate motherships and skiffs alike, ones filled with thugs armed with AK-47s, machine guns and RPG-7s. However, a military defeat of piracy requires a steady presence of warships, supply vessels and helicopters in the HRA. The world’s navies cannot afford this. Merchant vessels carrying privately contracted, armed-security teams that are prepared in accordance with the BMP4 manual are never hijacked, but fewer than half of the ships making HRA transits each year are reportedly taking these measures.
One side of the debate in UK’s House of Commons states that, if the maritime community, private citizens and some other nations’ stopped paying ransoms (while naval and private-security forces maintain their pressure), Somali piracy would become unprofitable and eventually cease. This argument draws some of its veracity from none other than writer Rudyard Kipling. His 1911 poem “Dane-geld” recalls the old English royal policy of simply paying Viking raiders to kill and plunder somewhere else. Kipling warned of continual extortion: “So when you are requested to pay up or be molested, you will find it better policy to say: ‘We never pay anyone Dane-geld, no matter how trifling the cost; for the end of that game is oppression and shame, and the nation that plays it is lost!’” Kipling is still quoted today.
Doubtless nobody in London believes it would be an easy thing to leave hostages to rot and possibly die in Somalia in order to defeat piracy in the long run. Even so, there is a cold logic in the no-ransom argument to de-fund this criminal enterprise. Billions of dollars worth of maritime cargoes, including petroleum, transit the HRA each year—piracy there is highly lucrative. Organized by Somali kingpins and bankrolled by shadowy international criminal organizations, piracy yields a high rate of return. In 2011 alone, ransom payments totaled a reported $135 million.
A recently released report from a study by the Oceans Beyond Piracy project and the International Maritime Bureau said that “555 seafarers were taken hostage in 2011; 645 hostages were captured in 2010 and remained captive during 2011; [and] 6 tourists and aid workers were kidnapped on land.” The Human Cost of Somali Piracy 2011 study estimated the average length of captivity for hostage seafarers was 8 months. And records show that 35 hostages died in 2011 as a result of being held in captivity by pirates.
The crew of the merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck after a U.S. Navy request to check on their health and welfare. The Belize-flagged cargo ship owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping, Ukraine, was seized by pirates Sept. 25 and forced to proceed to anchorage off the Somali Coast. The ship is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related military equipment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky/Released)