Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Eh-hum # 279


Being a daughter of a Master Mariner (Captain), who is currently overseas, learning that your dad's ship will pass the coast of Somalia is like a death sentence. You would rather encourage him to prematurely finish his contract and come home; miles away from the pirates of the East African coast (thankfully, he won't; so does my uncle, a licensed Master). Last Sunday's dramatic rescue of Richard Phillips, the American captain held hostage since April 8 by defiant Somali pirates, gave the impression that we are well on our way in putting a stop to this transnational and costly crime. However, it is just one of out the many incidents of piracy in the high seas and all efforts appear to be floundering in the face of a relentless, quick-to-adapt, resurgent enemy.

European countries, particularly the United Kingdom and France, have sponsored United Nations resolutions authorizing military action to combat the pirates. Hence, naval ships from the US and European nations were deployed to curb piracy off the Horn of Africa. However, as an article from TIME states, these operations have yet to yield favorable response. Phillips' rescue, after all, was simply an effort to play "catch-up". A day before his rescue, the pirates have captured another vessel, an Italian tugboat in the Gulf of Aden, which brings the total of high-seas abductions this year to 65, compared with 164 for all of 2008 and 2009. In addition, the Associated Press reports that Somali pirates captured four ships and took more than 60 crew, one of which is a Greek-managed bulk carrier, Irene E.M. This "brazen hijacking spree" was said to be caused by the death of three Somali pirates during the rescue operation of Phillips.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates reports that the four pirates who attacked the Maersk Alabama, were between 17 and 19 years old, or "untrained teenagers with heavy weapons". If that is the case, how come these pirates are able to dodge these well-armed, highly trained and high-tech navies? Experts on maritime security expressed that the United States, NATO and EU should straighten out organization issues, as well as defining their goals in the Gulf of Aden: to end piracy or to win top honors for their respective military strength. Moreover, there is the issue of poverty, which most likely drives these Somalis to piracy. In this regard, the government of Somali should take a stand. These incidents has apparently exposed "the impotency of Somalia's transitional government". But their leaders, led by the newly installed Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, hopes to curb this problem, which can contribute to efforts in ending the country's 18-year stint as a failed state.

Shipping plays a significant role in world trade. More importantly, Filipinos are a major stakeholder of the maritime/shipping industry, and due to earnings, Filipino sailors are unfazed by threats of piracy. About 40 percent of 800,000 seafarers around the world are Filipinos. And of nearly 250 sailors being held by the pirates, almost 100 are from the Philippines. Hence, it is only natural that we should be supportive of international endeavors to curb piracy in the high seas, whether in Africa or in Asia (in particular, the Malacca strait).

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