At sea Piracy off the coast of Somalia is getting worse. Time to act

LAST year, pirates took 1,181 people hostage off the Somali coast. About half were released after the payment of ransoms, a few have died of abuse or neglect and around 760 are currently in captivity. They are usually held prisoner on their own hijacked vessels, some of which are employed as mother-ships from which the pirates stage further raids. So far this year, there have been 35 attacks, seven of them successful. In March, when the monsoon abates and the Arabian Sea grows calmer, the pace of the attacks will quicken.

The problem has worsened sharply in recent years. There were 219 attacks last year compared with 35 in 2005. Ransoms paid last year climbed to $238m, an average of $5.4m per ship, compared with $150,000 in 2005. At the end of last month Jack Lang, a former French minister who advises the UN on piracy, warned the Security Council that Somali pirates were becoming the “masters” of the Indian Ocean. He puts the economic cost of piracy at $5 billion-7 billion a year (see article). The price in human misery is unquantifiable.


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