– Resolution would authorize states to pursue, board and search vessels
– Large ransom payments encourage more opportunistic attacks and hijackings
– Prosecutions and penalties aim to send a message to pirates
– Collaborative maritime security required to curb pirate activity in lawless waters
At a closed United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting in late April 2008, France and the United States (US) presented a draft resolution to counteract rampant piracy off the Somali coast and the Gulf of Aden. The draft cited the incident in April 2008 wherein Somali pirates seized a French luxury yacht, Le Ponant, holding 30 crewmembers hostage for nearly a week . After the ship’s owners paid a ransom to the pirates and the crewmembers were released, the French military intervened and arrested six of the suspected 12 pirates in a land chase.
However, the French operation was conducted after gaining the approval of the Somali transitional government. The new resolution would seek approval for a six-month period that would authorize states to board, search, and seize vessels engaged or believed to be engaged in acts of piracy or armed robbery. Additionally, the resolution would allow states to arrest and prosecute pirates who are seized in Somali territory, on land or by sea.
Somali pirate gangs have committed at least a dozen pirate attacks off the Somali coast in 2008 and have showed no signs of slowing in the near-term. Passing the resolution and effectively prosecuting pirates in international courts would likely help curb attacks in the mid to long-term.
A Lucrative Practice
At least a dozen pirate attacks off the Somali coast have so far occurred in 2008. The hijacking of foreign vessels for ransom has become a lucrative activity for Somali pirate gangs. A brief list of recent attacks is provided below:
• April 26, 2008: Somali pirates released a Spanish fishing trawler and its 26 crewmembers after an unknown source paid a ransom of US$1.2 million.
• April 11, 2008: The French government paid US$2 million to pirates on board Le Ponant before the French military intervened.
• March 19, 2008: Somali pirates released a Danish-owned tugboat after the ship’s owners paid a ransom of US$700,000.
While offering ransom payments increases the chances that hostages will not be harmed, the practice is setting a dangerous precedent that will likely encourage continued pirate attacks in the near-term.
Stepping Up Prosecutions
On April 28, 2008 a Somali judge sentenced seven pirates arrested in the semi-autonomous Puntland region to life in prison. The seven men were connected to the hijacking of the Dubai-flagged ship, al-Khaleej, in late April 2008 (Source).
Additionally, the six pirates captured after hijacking the Le Ponant are awaiting trial in a French court for theft and the abduction and detention of hostages with the intention of obtaining a ransom. Although they will likely receive a lighter sentencing compared to the terms given in the Somali court, tougher legal penalties would complement the resolution’s call for international assistance in patrolling and pursuing pirates in Somali waters.
Intervention Required to Improve Security
A collaborated maritime security plan has proven to be an effective method to combat pirate activity in the past. For example, the Malacca Strait was once plagued by high levels of pirate activity and attacks, but the Straits’ littoral states, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia have stepped up patrols and security in recent years. This effort has resulted in a significant drop in reported pirate incidents for the vital waterway. Further, no incidents were reported in the first quarter of 2008 (Previous Report).
According to US officials, it remains unclear when the resolution would be passed due to several legal issues. Still, with Somalia lacking a Navy and considerable military forces, the resolution would likely improve security in the mid to long-term as it would provide states the legal means to search, respond, and capture pirates off the Horn of Africa.