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Posted at 12:49 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Somali pirates' killing of Americans signals increasing turn toward violence

By Melissa Bell
somali pirates
A naval boarding party from HMS Cornwall guard Somali pirates after their dhow was boarded in the Indian Ocean on Thursday, Feb. 10, in a separate incident to Tuesday's case. (Dave Jenkins, Ministry of Defense/AP)

Four Americans on a yacht off the coast of Somalia were fatally shot by pirates as the U.S. attempted to negotiate their release, according to a U.S military statement announced Tuesday. Somalia pirates had hijacked the Americans' vessel off the coast of Oman.

Despite the fact that pirates have been terrorizing the waters around Somalia for nearly a decade, the killing of the Americans is a departure from their usual conduct and is another signal that the seafaring war is spiraling further out of control.

Though pirate attacks cost the world economy between $7 billion to $12 billion a year, pirates went out of their way to avoid violence, seeing their hostages as their "only assets," Wired quoted one as saying in 2009. However, just three weeks ago, Wired noted that the trend was changing. "For all their criminal behavior, Somali pirates have not gone out of their way to directly hurt or kill seafarers -- until now."

The article states:

There's a real risk of out-of-control escalation in the pirate war. Crews get better defenses, so pirates get more violent. In response, governments begin treating pirates like terrorists -- an approach Central Command naval boss Vice Adm. Mark Fox advocated last week. "There cannot be a segregation between terrorist activity, in my mind, and counter-piracy. We can't be passive and hopeful it doesn't happen."

Pirates have also begun to torture captives, as an interview on Feb. 1 with EU naval chief Maj. Gen. Buster Howes revealed:

"There have been regular manifestations of systematic torture," he said. If warships approached a pirated ship too closely, the pirates would drag hostages on deck and beat them in front of naval officers until the warship went away, Howes said.
"A few years go, they were very constrained and much more respectful" to hostages, he said, but now "they've shown a willingness to use violence much more quickly and much more violence."

The rise of piracy can be traced back to 1991, when warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The country was carved into fiefdoms and the army, police, navy and coast guard dismantled. However, the number of pirate attacks sharply increased in 2005, to 35 violent incidents, compared with just two for all 2004. The International Maritime Bureau classes waters off Somalia, located in the Horn of Africa, as some of the most dangerous in the world.

The U.S. Navy released a map in 2007 showing the attacks of the pirates along the coast of Somalia (Click on it for full PDF):

From a 2006 report by the Post's Emily Wax:

"We have pirates, we have militias. This is not even a country or a place with stable structures. It's like working in an earthquake, even though there's no earthquake," Stephanie Savariaud, an information officer with the U.N. World Food Program, said in an interview in Wajid, Somalia, a dusty town 300 miles from the coast. "Somalia is one of the most complex emergency situations in the world."

With the latest deaths at the hands of pirates, that emergency will likely only get worse.

By Melissa Bell  | February 22, 2011; 12:49 PM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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Why isn't the US Navy right now bombing the "mother ship" that is coordinating these pirate attacks?!?

The Navy was founded with the express purpose of stopping piracy, yet today all it seems to do is lobby Congress for more money.

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | February 22, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama is afraid of ticking off Somali immigrants by taking an American position against pirates.

Posted by: ecartr5 | February 22, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Why is anyone in their right mind sailing around in their yacht in the waters off of Somalia?

That's like going fly fishing in your waders in the Everglades and being shocked to get dragged under by a gator.

Posted by: Rainier1 | February 22, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse

It really is time to stop treating pirates like criminals that should be arrested and then worrying about gathering evidence to try them in a court. Treat priacy is an act of war. Rather than react to pirates attacking ships, use our resources to locate, track and kill them everywhere they are encountered.

Posted by: concernedcitizen68 | February 22, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Didn't we invade Somalia a while back? Seems that we didn't make a long-lasting improvement.

Posted by: rjm1 | February 22, 2011 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Pirates 4
Mariners 0

Posted by: zziggeraut | February 22, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

thomasmc: The pirates carry hostages on those motherships. Would you be willing to sign their death warrants?

Posted by: billyvw | February 22, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

No doubt the US Navy killed those hostages when they stormed the yacht.

Somali pirates may be a lot of things but they're not stupid.

Posted by: Rubiconski | February 22, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

I am very confused. It would appear to me that a joint effort between all parties effected by this growing problem would take very little time to resolve. We have done this before. It's called an air strike. Send a very fast, hard and cold message that this is over. What ever happened to "We don't negotiate with terrorists"? In the old days George W. would focus on something like this just to take attention away from the real issues. Let's pretend he is still the President and get this done.

Posted by: jhrothenberg | February 28, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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