American Ship Seized by Somali Pirates (Updated)
An American-flagged ship with 20 Americans aboard has been seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean:
Pirates commandeered a United States-flagged container ship with 20 American crew members off the coast of Somalia on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the first time an American-crewed ship was seized by pirates in the area.
The container ship, the Maersk Alabama, was carrying thousands of tons of relief aid to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the company that owns the ship said.
The ship was taken by pirates at about 7:30 a.m. local time, 280 miles southeast of the Somali city of Eyl, a known haven for pirates, a spokesman for the United States Navy said. The ship is owned and operated by Maersk Line Limited, a United States subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, the Danish shipping giant.
The Maersk Alabama was at least the sixth commercial ship commandeered by pirates in the last week off the Horn of Africa, one of the most notoriously lawless zones on the high seas, where pirates have been operating with near impunity despite efforts by many nations, including the United States, to intimidate them with naval warship patrols.
The story goes on to point out that the Maersk line is a primary shipping contractor for the Department of Defense, occasionally carrying sensitive cargoes.
I’ve been covering the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia for some time here and, as I’ve said before, the real solution to the problem is a solid government in Somalia, a tall, possibly unachievable order. Failing that I think the problem should be faced pragmatically.
Putting enough naval capacity into the area to do any real good will be an expensive proposition. It might well be cheaper simply to pay the ransoms. However, there could well come a point where the piracy is more than a simple irritant.
In their current condition international institutions are not robust enough to deal with piracy or terrorism or any similar issues, indeed, they may well operate against dealing with these issues in an effective manner. It will be up to the individual navies of the world and, most especially, to ours as the largest of the world’s navies to deal with the problem.
UPDATE (James Joyner): The Pentagon is reporting that the Maersk’s crew has retaken control of their vessel.
Capt. Joseph Murphy, an instructor at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, told The Associated Press that he was called by the Department of Defense and told the crew, including his son Shane, the second in command, had regained control.
At a noon news conference, Maersk Line Ltd. CEO John Reinhart said that the company was working to contact families of the crew. “Speculation is a dangerous thing when you’re in a fluid environment. I will not confirm that the crew has overtaken this ship,” he said.
A U.S. official said the crew had retaken control and had one pirate in custody. “The crew is back in control of the ship,” a U.S. official said at midday, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak on the record. “It’s reported that one pirate is on board under crew control — the other three were trying to flee,” the official said. The status of the other pirates was unknown, the official said, but they were reported to “be in the water.”
Good news, if true.
Update 2 (Dave Schuler): There’s a survey of articles on dealing with the Somali pirates over at New Atlanticist you might be interested in. And a new article on the subject by Derek Reverson challenging the notion that this latest development is some sort of game-changer in the ongoing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia.
I’ll admit that I haven’t read all of the articles cited in the survey article yet but in the ones I have read I found a couple of omissions curious. First, Somali fishermen have been complaining for years of decreasing catches. They’ve attributed the problem to ships dumping pollutants into their fishing waters. I think that’s probably an oversimplification and think that the problem is too many fishermen and not enough fish, probably as a result of more general environmental degradation and poor resource management. Second, I’m surprised that more hasn’t been said about the lawless conditions in Somalia proper. If there’s a more perfect demonstration that less government isn’t invariably beneficial, I don’t know where it might be.
UPDATE (James Joyner): I’ll agree that most of the articles skip over those issues, treating this is a discrete security issue. Notable exceptions, however, are Derek Reveron’s “Just Say No to a War on Piracy” and Jim Easaw’s “Maritime Shock and Awe Won’t Fix Piracy.”