Where Is Our Lord Exmouth?
Successive American presidents have tried for almost twenty years to give Somalia a government. Neither force nor aid worked. Not really a country any longer, Somalia is a free-for-all for men with guns, for warlords, tribes, and Islamists including al-Qaeda. They’ve taken to piracy for a living, and they have a thousand miles of the African coast to provide shelter and to hide in. In the Gulf of Aden this year, Somali pirates have captured some 90 ships, for which they have obtained ransom estimated at around $30 million dollars. The Sirius Star, a gigantic tanker with a cargo of oil taken on in Saudi Arabia and worth $100 million, is only one of at least a dozen ships recently hijacked and held in Somali harbours. Pirates have seized ships from many countries including Ukraine, Denmark, and France. Owners and insurers have so far chosen to pay up, which of course has meant that piracy is a successful money-making operation. Since 9/11, however, piracy has increasingly been seen more as a sub-division of terrorism than a threat to trade. Well-armed and equipped with modern technology, pirates operate from a “mother ship” and an Indian warship recently engaged and sank one of these. The hijacking of the Sirius Star may lead to more positive armed responses of the kind. Combined Task Force 150 already patrols the Gulf with ships of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and some from other countries too. Two centuries ago, Lord Exmouth led a British fleet to shell and destroy the raiders’ base in Algiers. The civilized world had agreed to put piracy down, and it looks like having to repeat the performance.