In the middle of November this year 195 seafarers were being held hostage by Somali pirates. How many people will be forced to spend Christmas aboard their hijacked ships remains to be seen, but the statistics are dismal. This year alone 15 sailors have been killed as a result of piracy and there are no indications that the attacks are declining, either in number or strength.
Pictures from the ships in the pirates’ clutches show misery and general chaos. Those shown by navy representatives at the World Maritime Day in Gothenburg in September were no exception. The results looked like a home that had suffered a brutal burglary with furniture, objects and belongings in a dreadful mess. Other photographs showed armed men in small, fast boats, loaded with ladders, fuel and CAT, in search of a suitable victim.
The development of seaborne crime off the coast of Somalia has taken a turn for the worse. In 2004 there were about a dozen pirate attacks, and five years later, in 2009, piracy exploded and there have since been over 200 attacks annually. Every attack and hijacking has a large number of victims in the form of seafarers affected, their families, and of course the ship owner. When you see photographs from liberated ships, you can’t help reflecting on what it must be like to live under such conditions, month in and month out, at the mercy of pirates on drugs and with food and water shortages. The stress of not knowing when or even if you will be reunited with your family, being subjected to beatings and mock executions, are things we can hardly imagine. Being in the midst of such chaos at the same time as Christmas approaches must be even more painful.
Military measures inadequate
But how are we to put an end to East African piracy? According to military sources, the problems cannot be solved by purely military means. The area is too large to monitor and there are simply not enough resources to secure the entire region. In addition, military presence now seems to be on the wane due to reassignment of vessels to Libya and reduced financial resources due to the global economic crisis.
A Swedish researcher, Karl Sörensson at the National Defence College, has written reports about the Somali pirates. According to him, there are only two routes away from piracy: either ships must stop travelling on these waters or there must be extensive operations inside the country. The headmaster of a Muslim school in Vällingby, who gave a speech at the World Maritime Day, touched on the same topic. Somalia needs a
stable political leadership, better education and increased trade with the outside world before piracy can be stopped. But pending a solution, the world’s sailors continue to expose themselves to the risks involved in working on ships in the waters off Somalia.