The new piracy

Our view : Rising number of attacks at sea threatens the world's maritime trade

October 02, 2008

They don't wear bandannas and eye-patches any more, though at first glance there's something almost comical about the Somali pirates who hijacked a Ukrainian freighter last week, apparently unaware it was carrying Russian-made tanks. With no way of getting their booty ashore, they've been stuck at sea ever since, surrounded by U.S. warships. Call it poor planning.

But there's nothing funny about the resurgence of piracy, which has exploded in recent years with the growth of the shipping industry. According to some estimates, there were at least 2,400 pirate attacks between 2000 and 2006, costing up to $16 billion a year. And today's pirates aren't the old salts of legend but heavily armed violent criminals equipped with speedboats, satellite phones and global positioning systems. With 80 percent of all international freight now carried by sea, and more than 10 million cargo containers in transit at any given time, pirate attacks are an increasing threat, and emergency relief supply ships have been among their victims. Southeast Asia has the most dangerous waters in the world; Somalia became a haven for pirates after its government collapsed in the 1990s.

The U.S. has taken the lead in countering the latest attack, and Russia also dispatched a warship to the area. But this is a global problem that will require a coordinated response from all the world's navies.

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