Pirates of the Gulf of Aden

Pirates don’t just exist in Howard Pyle illustrations or Disney blockbusters, but on the high seas today. Somalia, which has been engulfed in civil war since 1991, has become a major base of operations for pirates. The national government has little control over the country.Piracy off the coast of Somalia grabbed the attention of the United States last year when the American merchant vessel Maersk Alabama — skippered by Vermont resident Richard Phillips — was hijacked by four Somali pirates. Six months later, pirates again attempted to take the vessel.Piracy has been described as Somalia’s wealthiest industry. The BBC reported in 2008 that Somali pirates received $150 million in ransom that year. Piracy isn’t an issue that solely affects the United States; pirates have indescriminantly hijacked merchant vessels of many nations. Last week, a Norwegian tanker was hijacked. In November, a Greek merchant vessel was captured. In 2008, pirates successfully hijacked 42 merchant vessels.The United States has been hesitant to intervene in Africa, especially Somalia, for nearly two decades. In October 1993, 18 American soldiers were killed in Mogadishu attempting to capture a Somali warlord. The bodies of several dead Americans were mutilated and paraded through the streets of the Somali capital, and the incident left a scar on the Clinton Administration. By May 1994, all American troops had been withdrawn from the region.Since then, the United States has neglected to intervene in numerous African conflicts, including the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the 2003 genocide in Darfur and the ongoing conflict in the Congo, which The New York Times stated has claimed 5.4 million lives since 1998.Here’s the problem with piracy off the coast of Africa: Rather than risk life and property by attempting a rescue, shipping companies will simply pay ransom to pirates. This is the same reason vessels resist hiring armed guards — only about one in 100 merchant vessels in the region are affected; it is more economical to pay ransom as if it were a tax on traveling through those waters.The more pressing danger is that these funds are being used to buy arms by warlords — the de facto governors of Somalia — and by terrorist organizations. This includes Al Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist group that has been targeting Western relief organizations and other NGOs in Somalia since 2007, and who declared themselves to be an ally of Al-Qaeda last month.Somalia hasn’t had a U.N.-recognized government since 1991. Genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa may not have a tangible impact on the United States, but a lawless state that is the home of organized terrorist groups has the potential to repeat the heinous violence that rocked New York, Washington, D.C., London and Madrid in the last decade. Since terrorism and piracy are equal threats to all Western nations, a unified, international approach must be made to secure the waters around the Horn of Africa.  Stop the pirates, stop the flow of cash to terrorists.