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Somalia Pirates Capture South Korean Vessel, Demonstrates Larger Problem

On October 9, 2010, pirates from Somalia captured a 241-ton trawler Keummi, a South Korean crab fishing vessel, about ten miles off the coast of Lamu, Kenya.  The captured include the 54 year-old South Korean owner, the 67 year-old South Korean captain, two Chinese citizens, and 39 Kenyans.  South Korean officials had not heard if the pirates have any demands.  “Given past instances, it would put the hostages in even more danger if the government tried to negotiate directly with the pirates,” a ministry official said. “We’re trying to find out more about the incident using all possible channels.”  The Horn of Africa is one of the more dangerous stretches of water because of the possibility of piracy.  In recent times, seven South Korean vessels have been seized by Somali pirates, including one in April in which the crew still has not been released.

Image available at sea-seek.com.

Somali pirates have seen a recent rise in activity due in part to the lack of central government in Somalia and the rise in ransom prices. Piracy is defined under Article 101 of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as: “(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed: (i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft; (ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State; (b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft; (c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).”   Here, the Somali pirates clearly fall under the definition of pirates since they are participating in illegal acts of detention for private ends outside of the jurisdiction of any State, since Somalia has no central government.   The fact that the group that captured the South Korean vessel and other similar Somalians participating in other similar actions are pirates is not likely to be a point of contention, but what to do with the pirates in this and other incidents is debatable.

Under Article 100 of UNCLOS states must cooperate to the fullest extent possible to repress piracy on the high seas.  The European Union’s naval forces have dozens of ships patrolling off the Somalia Coast and have disrupted more than 90 hijackings so far.  The South Koreans also have their own vessel patrolling the Indian Ocean and the United States Navy has taken part in missions to stop Somali pirates.  This has led to a drop of successful pirate attacks from about 50 percent a few years ago to about 20  to 30 percent this year.   Still, the Somalia pirates have become more embolden searching more than 1,000 nautical miles from Somalia and have demanded higher ransoms.   Colonel Richard Spencer, a British Royal Marine says, “The main problem in Somalia is there are no policeman there to arrest them when they go ashore. There is no legal infrastructure . . . People who don’t work at sea can’t imagine the distances involved, its millions of square miles of ocean to cover, you would need hundreds of thousands of warships to be truly effective.”

Fixing the problem may require focusing on rebuilding Somalia, which is by no means an easy task.  It may also be better for the world community to remain strong and take away the Somali pirates motivation for kidnapping by refusing to negotiate with them.   However, this method certainly has its pitfalls.  To date the Somalia pirates have not killed a hostage, but there is not guarantee this record would continue if the world community stopped paying the ransoms.  Also, there is a great amount of pressure put on by the hostages’ families to use whatever means necessary to secure the release of their loved ones.  Whether more joint operations are required or a new policy towards Somalia and Somlian pirates would be more efficient; the threat of Somalia pirates continues in the South Indian Ocean without a clear strategy for dealing with it in keeping with Article 101 of UNCLOS.  Meanwhile, the South Korean vessel will remain under control of Pirates possibly for months into the future.

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