Can Somali pirates be defeated?

Published on BBC, 20 November 2009.

… The Dutch frigate Evertsen is a reassuring sight for the civilian ships dotted around the horizon as she ploughs steadily through the calm, glittering waters of the Gulf of Aden.

But all the bristling firepower of the EU’s anti-piracy task force has not been enough to remove the threat of piracy from the seas around Somalia.

Why has it been so difficult for the world’s most advanced navies to defeat pirates who are armed with just Kalashnikovs and rocket- propelled grenades? …  

… The pirates know the law. When they see a naval frigate coming, they dump their weapons, boarding ladder, and even satellite telephones over the side. This is what has happened with the pirates being tracked in the operations room.

Everyone fully expects them simply to return to shore to re-equip themselves and a few days later set out to sea again, hunting for vulnerable ships. The ransoms, often several million dollars, are enough to comfortably pay for new equipment.

‘Like catching junkies’

This is all very frustrating for the task force. The Evertsen’s captain, Cdr Cees Vooijs, told me about a typical incident in which a skiff had been seen approaching a merchant vessel to attempt a boarding. It had then been intercepted after it fled the scene.

“When we boarded the skiff we found nothing – nothing of piracy things – and their story was that they were fishermen but we found nothing that explained that they are fishermen, no fish, no smell of fish, no fishing gear.

“For us it was a very clear case that they did the attack… that was not enough for the public prosecutor in the Netherlands to say there should be a trial and that was a very bad moment.”

The task force may even have encountered the same groups of pirates several times, having released them on previous occasions.

“It is just like the policemen in Amsterdam catching junkies who steal bicycles,” said one of the Dutch officers on board. “They kick them out after arresting them and then see them back in the police station the following morning” … (full text).

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