Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pirates of the Gulf of Aden

(AP Photo/CMA-CGM/ho)
Somali Pirates have none of the renown and cheeky charm of Captain Jack Sparrow. These pirates chose a yacht of French registry in the Gulf of Aden with only 30 crew members aboard. The former crew of the Yacht, The Ponant, are now hostages of a deadly group of pirates that stalk off the horn of Africa for opportunities to waylay vessels. The crew was not scheduled until April 19th to take passengers paying at a minimum $3500 a pop to party or seek solitude from the other 64 passengers among lounges, four decks and a couple of ultra chic restaurants. The cruise ship was to sail its way from Alexandria, Egypt to Valletta, Malta over the course of 10 days .

"As far as we know, no shots have been fired." French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The company said that the majority of the crew were French nationals.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon later on Friday described the incident as "a blatant act of piracy".

"The defence and foreign ministries are mobilised to act as quickly as possible.

"I hope in the coming minutes or hours to try to win the freedom of these hostages," Mr Fillon said.

Man the battle stations. French officialdom is not even slightly amused, having immediately sounded a piracy alert with enough military personnel and equipment stationed in Djibouti to back up their diplomatic threats. Because of the rampant piracy in this part of the Indian Ocean, US naval ships have stepped up patrols along with French naval forces. In November 2005, the five star US cruise ship, The Seaborn Spirit was attacked by rag tag pirates brandishing and shooting machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) at the ship. Just this past June, a freighter ship of Danish registry, the Danica White, came under Somali pirate attack and was chased back into home waters by the USS Carter Hall.

The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. Last year, the guided missile destroyer USS Porter opened fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to a Japanese tanker.

Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have its own navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.

The International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy, said in its annual report earlier this year that global pirate attacks rose 10 percent in 2007, marking the first increase in three years.

Somalia pirates have about two dozen known piracy acts, in an increase in activity in recent years with the war torn nation unable to trade for goods and services with some nations. The sheer majesty of the ships the Somali pirates attack with their battered little speed boats and a command boat hiding elsewhere giving direction, gives notice that size does not matter to these brazen thieves of the high seas. Only a show of force deters them and that means having patrols in the right are at the right time in The Gulf Of Aden.

Last month, Russia paid excessive tributes and ransoms to Somali pirates for the release of their crew and vessels. It means no boat no matter how big or from a country with nukes, navies or knowledge is immune to the thievery of modern pirates.

From Klaus Hympendahl comes the book, Pirates Aboard: Forty Cases of Piracy today and What Blue Water Cruisers cand Do About It. The ancient practice of piracy in its 21st century form is just as disturbing, no matter where in the world the piracy is taking place.

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