Sunday, January 01, 2006

High Seas Piracy Is Now Out Of Control

This CBC report on Somali pirates highlights what has now become an epidemic on the high seas with 26 actual hijackings and dozens of other attacks. The United Nations, in an attempt to get critical food aid to nearly 1 million starving people in east Africa, have been leasing cargo ships only to have them hijacked before they reach their destination port.

Acts of piracy are increasing in the seas off Somalia. In the past nine months alone, there have been 26 hijackings of international ships and one attempt to board an American-based cruise liner.
The figures are up dramatically from only two hijackings along the same coast last year.

I reported in previous posts, here and here, that high seas piracy was a common event which received too little attention. It wasn't until Seabourn Spirit, a cruise liner with a load of wealthy passengers, was attacked that the attention of the main stream media was finally captured.

The mention of "pirates" immediately conjures up visions of sailing ships and eye-patched, one-legged buccaneers all sailing under a black flag festooned with skull and cross-bones. Piracy in the days of sail is imagined as a once romantic existence embraced by adventurers. It was never like that.

A large number of pirates in the days of sail were actually privateers operating under a Letters of Marque, thus their actions against other ships were, for the most part, viewed as legal by whichever government had issued the privateer his warrant. True pirates, those operating completely outside the law, were little different than today's modern pirates. The romantic lifestyle depicted by Hollywood simply didn't exist.

Think high seas piracy has no effect on you? Think again. Lloyd's of London has announced that they are separating piracy from standard marine insurance policies and placing it under war insurance. Lloyd's has changed the definition of "pirate" to that of "terrorist", and has effectively made war zones out of areas with elevated risk of piracy. That means premiums will increase dramatically and that will add a significant cost to the shipping of goods by sea. Consider that everything from bananas, coffee and wheat to crude oil and the anti-knock chemical in your car's gas tank has to move through pirate infested waters. Maritime officers' organizations have advised shipping companies that crews now expect to be paid a wartime premium for sailing, unarmed and unprotected, through such zones. The North American consumer can expect an increase in the price of every single imported product and the cost of shipping exports to affect domestic prices.

Action to deal with pirates is long overdue. It's time that areas such as the waters off east Africa, the Malacca Strait, Borneo, Thailand and Balik Papan receive direct naval intervention to either secure large areas of ocean or provide direct naval escort.

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