Last week, in a brazen attack, a gang of Somali pirates took on a U.S. Navy frigate. The caper predictably backfired, but it’s another episode in the long-running narrative of piracy in the anarchic waters off the African country’s shore—and it won’t be the last. U.S. officials warn that piracy attacks are expected to increase as the Indian Ocean enters a period of relatively calm weather.
The April 1 incident took place off the western coast of the Seychelles. The USS Nicholas, working in support of U.S. Africa Command, exchanged fire with a skiff before chasing it down. Finding ammunition and cans of fuel onboard, officials arrested three suspected pirates (along with two more on the mothership, which was also confiscated) before sinking the vessel. It was just one of a spate of attacks; according to the European Union’s naval force, the rate of pirate activity in March was double that of September to November. Earlier this week there was another major attack, as pirates hijacked a South Korean oil tanker.
Last week, the U.S. Maritime Administration warned of increased piracy off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean: “Mariners must be vigilant and prepare for potential attacks,” warned David T. Matsuda, acting maritime administrator, attributing this to the end of monsoon season and the increased range of recent incidents. What to do with captured pirates is another problem. Naval officials said those captured by the USS Nicholas would remain on board until officials determined how to deal with them. The EU is also in search of a solution. Kenya agreed to try those captured by the EU naval force, but the country now holds over 100 pirates and says it can’t take any more. The bulk of the problem will likely have to be handled on shore: until Somalia, whose government collapsed in 1991, achieves stability, stopping the marine criminals will be difficult.