No Quick Solutions to Pirate Crisis

On Sept. 25, Somali pirates armed with rockets and assault rifles and traveling in small boats called "skiffs," scaled the side of the Ukrainian cargo ship Fainaoff the Somali coast and overpowered the 22 crew members on board. Inside the 530-foot roll-on, roll-off vessel, the pirates made a surprise discovery: 33 Soviet-designed T-72 tanks, plus small arms, rockets and ammunition. The arms shipment was reportedly on its way to an unspecified customer in Sudan, but now seems likely to wind up on the African black market instead, unless the vessel's shady owners cough up the unprecedented $20-million ransom demanded by the Faina's captors.

The Faina's seizure represents a watershed event in an escalating campaign pitting commercial shippers, aid groups, and the developed world's governments and navies against a few hundred Somali fishermen-turned-seaborne-bandits in heavily trafficked waters off the Horn of Africa. Since the destruction of Somalia's brief-lived Islamic Courts government in 2006, piracy at sea and banditry on land have surpassed agriculture and fishing as sources of revenue in the country. Despite the hijacking of an average of one ship per week, with ransoms of roughly $1 million per ship, the problem had yet to attract serious international action. But with the capture of the Fainaand its arms, the world's media and leaders have finally given the piracy threat its due.

In the Gulf of Aden, the increased attention comes in the form of an unprecedented surge of naval forces tasked with protecting both commercial shipping in transit, as well as food-aid shipments bound for Somalia. In addition to regional naval patrols, there is the long-serving Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150, a U.S.-dominated flotilla of eight warships currently commanded by a Danish commodore), French naval forces, and a Canadian frigate assigned to escort World Food Program-chartered vessels bound for Mogadishu. Several Russian warships also are sailing towards Somali waters on a unilateral anti-piracy mission.

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