Last week, U.S. Navy seals rescued Poul Hagen Thisted and Jessica Buchanan, after being held hostage in Somalia for three months. Jon Huggins, director of the Oceans Beyond Piracy Project at One Earth Future, questioned why the US, thousands of miles away, was left to conduct this rescue. In short, the US has the means to conduct such an operation, and Somalia does not have the resources to fight piracy on its own. Despite the successful rescue of these aid workers, an international effort will be necessary to make any long-term progress with this problem.
Some, however, see this rescue as a potential turning point in the long “war” against piracy. This accomplishment may show pirates that the international community is willing to take action against what has practically become the norm. So far, efforts such as increased and more aggressive naval patrols seem to be helping reduce some piracy. The EU Naval Force reported that in 2010, 47 ships were hijacked, and in 2011, the number was down to 25. At the same time, the realization that there are increased efforts to combat piracy may cause pirates to develop new tactics and become more aggressive to counteract those increased efforts. Land-based kidnappings, such as those of Thisted and Buchanan, may evidence these changing tactics. The incentive to kidnap foreigners remains as high as ever, with $147 million paid for ransoms in 2011 alone.
As long as piracy is producing such lucrative ransom payments, it is unlikely that the problem will abate. Although many governments make paying ransom illegal, it is often “the most efficient way to deal with piracy.” In fact, prosecuting those who pay ransom is unlikely to prevent ship owners from continuing to do so. In addition, such prosecution is unlikely to help counteract the problem in the long-term. Some advocate for continued naval patrols as well as holding trials for suspected pirates within the region that these crimes take place. Others, such as shipping operators and insurers, support the use of armed guards aboard ships. Some countries, including the US, have passed laws permitting such action. Each country is able to make its own laws on this issue under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, where every ship is subject to the jurisdiction of the country whose flag it carries. Despite the existence of such laws, this is currently considered to be a highly controversial solution.
Although some feel that the international community is starting to make headway with the problem of piracy, many of the implemented and proposed solutions are likely to bring about new problems in this fight. Piracy will likely continue to flourish as long as the pirates can respond to the efforts with new tactics. In addition, until the international community can truly pull together and create a unified response, it will be very difficult to successfully combat piracy.