Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

5. Pirates Rule the Waves

The very use of the word pirate made the rash of hijackings of commercial ships off the Horn of Africa seem like an almost quaint confirmation that the long-suffering people of East Africa were living in a different age. But it became clear during the fall that there was nothing charming about the rogue seamen of Somalia, and that their exploits could have consequences far beyond the sea lanes of the Gulf of Aden. Having netted more than $30 million from more than 70 such hijackings this year alone, the pirates raised alarms in late September by seizing a Ukrainian freighter carrying tanks and other war material that may have been headed for conflict-ridden Sudan. Then came the biggest prize of all: a Saudi-owned supertanker, the Sirius Star, carrying $100 million worth of crude oil. Despite the menace, the international community could muster little by way of an effective response to the increasingly audacious pirates. But such depredation along a critical trade route threatens livelihoods around the world. And it serves as a reminder that the impoverished, failed state of Somalia, which has suffered so much grief over two decades, remains able to spread that grief around. (Nov. 18)