Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Piracy returns to Somalia as pirates take control of an oil tanker

Aris 13 oil tanker, before being taken by pirates. ABC/AP.

Pirates have taken control of an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia. ABC News. The eight crew members of the Aris 13 oil tanker, flagged out of Comoros, are being held hostage by the Somali gunmen. The hijacking is the first incidence of piracy since 2012 and comes as a shock. Heavy patrols by NATO, India, Iran and China have greatly reduced the threat near Somali waters but these gunmen slipped through the cracks. Two dozen men from the semi-autonomous region of Puntland took control of the ship. No demands for ransom have yet been made. 

My Comment:
Looks like piracy has returned to the seas around Somalia. Piracy in Somalia was so bad a few years back that it reached memetic levels. Hollywood movies were made about it and even South Park had an episode on it. And to be fair, it was a serious problem. Many ships were stolen, crew members were taken hostage and ransoms were paid. It was a massive problem and the seas around Somalia were among the most dangerous in the world. 

And then, suddenly, it stopped almost completely. Why? Extremely heavy navy patrols. Not only was the United States Navy patrolling, they had a lot of international help, even from countries that normally don't get along with the United States. When the US, Iran and China are all working to a common goal it turns out that things can be accomplished very quickly. International trade is hugely important and even countries that normally hate each other will work together to protect it. The crackdown pretty much stopped piracy in the region.

The success of these pirates were fairly low as well. Some of them ended up dead, like the pirates portrayed in the Captain Phillips movie. The rest ended up in prison or just correctly realized that there was a very small chance of success. Most of the people dumb enough to try it ended up being dead or in prison. 

So why did these guys start it up again? The ABC article made it sound like they were former pirates who gave up the life to take up fishing instead. Unfortunately for them, the waters around Somalia have been over-fished and they had a lot of trouble making a profit. Without any other sources of income and angry about foreigners fishing in their waters, they decided to return to piracy.

It's not like  they don't have a point. Since Somalia is a failed state, it has little possibility to take control of it's waters. Foreign ships have exploited their waters for years. Not only do they steal the fish of their waters, the often dump toxic waste along the coasts. What happened to the waters around Somali is a crime and only happened because Somalia is such a basket case.

Still, there are better options than piracy. I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who take hostages and steal ships, even if they have been screwed by the international community and the fact that Somalia has been a failed state for decades now.  I am hoping these pirates are brought to justice and that the hostages are rescued safely. 

I do worry that there might be terrorist connections to this attack. The al-Qaeda linked group, al-Shabab is very active in Somalia and they have had connections to pirates in the past. Though the local sources quoted in the article made it seem that these were just run of the mill pirates, there could always be a connection that hasn't been discovered yet. 

If there is a terror connection then things can go very bad very quickly. Pirates are at least motivated by profit and understand that killing hostages is usually a very bad idea. Terrorists have no such motive and could very well execute hostages just for the sake of doing so. Let's hope that there isn't a terror connection in this case and that the hostages are released safely. 

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