TOPICS : Somalia’s piracy no laughing matter

Humour has its place, but today’s piracy is no laughing matter. Piracy permeates our cultural ethos — it’s in children’s stories and movies both tragic and comical. In recent months, as pirates off Somalia have proliferated and widened the scope of their capability, newspapers, television newscasts, and bloggers have invariably invoked the terms “arrghh,” “avast,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

One essay casually suggested building a Jack Sparrow wing at Guantánamo. But maritime

piracy involves criminal elements using force against innocent prey whose only interest is safe passage. Little more, little less.

The problem of piracy is as ancient as when mankind first traversed open waters. But recent Somali piracy has caused the international community to take notice. And for good reason.

Pirates have increased the stakes. No longer are just yachts, fishing boats, and small freighters at risk; now there are attacks on cruise ships (the Nautica), military cargo (the freighter Faina), a chemical tanker (the Biscagila), and an oil carrier. The Sirius Star, hijacked last month, contains a reported two million barrels of crude oil. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, which accidentally grounded in Prince William Sound nearly 20 years ago, could hold 1.2 million barrels and spilled one-third of that, resulting in one of the top environmental disasters.

Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its report, “Global Trends 2025 — a Transformed World,” which suggested, in part, that “some states might wither away as governments fail to provide security and other basic needs.”

While not all potential failed states are located in proximity to major shipping lanes, as Somalia is with the Gulf of Aden, port facilities or oil and gas fields might be at risk to future stateless areas and/or non-state actors. With the exception of private pleasure craft attacked on occasion in the Caribbean, piracy no longer occurs around North America. In distant waters, few US built, flagged, or manned commercial ships ply their trade; therefore few US ships are affected. But while piracy may not present an immediate or direct threat to US national security interests, its consequences can affect everyone. Insurance rates for ships transiting the Gulf of Aden are increasing 10-fold. The risk to personnel and cargo if a ship is hijacked is escalating, and tens of millions of dollars have already been paid out in ransom to pirates this year. Piracy can affect local economies, too. The United Nations Security Council is rightly addressing this 21st-century incarnation of the age-old maritime challenge.

Resolutions have been passed and coalitions made, individual state forces are patrolling the

region, enhanced private maritime security is being explored and long-term methods of appropriate state-level response being debated. While all the answers may not be here yet, everyone is at least asking the questions. — The Christian Science Monitor