Long ago and far away

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Economist does Somali Pirates

The Indian Ocean | The most dangerous seas in the world:
But the pirates’ biggest victim has been Somalia itself. Some 2.6m of the country’s 8m people depend on food aid that comes by sea. French, Danish and Dutch naval ships have escorted ships carrying food from Mombasa to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, for the UN’s World Food Programme, but it is a fragile supply line. In May, a Jordanian freighter, the Victoria, carrying sugar for displaced people, disappeared 56km (35 miles) off Mogadishu before being freed a week later. It is hard for the UN to find shipowners willing to take the risk without an armed escort.

After Somalia’s collapse into civil war in 1991, some Somalis began to steal the odd small fishing boat. These days the pirates are a lot more sophisticated and better organised, with powerful speedboats, mother ships in the high seas, heavy weapons, satellite equipment, and negotiators abroad who handle ransoms. They target bigger ships at night, lighting up the sky with tracers, heavy-machinegun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

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