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Somali Pirates Steal from Rich, Give to Selves


Growing threat to commercial shipping to be addressed in Cairo summit.

In 1801, the US Navy moved against the Barbary pirates under the battle cry "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!"

A similar move may be necessary against pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden and off the Horn of Africa. The pirates -- mostly Somali fishermen and ex-militiamen of the failed state, with a few geeks tossed in to operate the satellite phones and GPS equipment -- are a threat to the free flow of commerce. Losses from raids won't be priced into deals forever.

According to press reports, the pirates have attacked about 100 ships this year and seized about 40, including the recent hijacking of a Saudi Arabian Sirius Star, a supertanker loaded with crude oil valued at about $100 million. The pirates now hold about 14 ships, including a Ukrainian vessel loaded with 33 tanks. Luckily, the pirates don't have the port facilities to unload the military equipment.

Outsiders haven't been allowed to visit the kidnapped crews. In some cases, crews face nothing worse than boredom. But some report gross mistreatment; a few have died.

The Somali pirates reportedly are viewed as heroes and spread their loot around to secure their base. The pirates haven't yet been romanticized in the press, but that's almost certain to follow.

The pirates have taken about $30 million in ransom this year - a piddling amount in the world economy, but they pose a growing threat and now operate farther out to sea than anyone imagined possible.

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal editorial page wondered about the construction of "a Captain Jack Sparrow wing at Guantanamo" as a step to combat the pirates.

Sparrow's real name was Bartholomew Roberts, and he's credited with taking 470 vessels in the early 1700s. Sparrow was known for the ferocity of his attacks, and many ships surrendered without a fight. Actor Johnny Depp plays a witty and slightly sappy Sparrow in the Pirates of the Carribbean movies.

Unlike Hollywood's version of piracy, the Somali pirates aren't the least bit cute or cuddly, and show no desire to wear eyeliner - they're just clever and increasingly bold. Commenting on the hijacking of the Saudi-owned supertanker off the coast of Kenya, the Los Angeles Times said it's the "maritime equivalent of a bull elephant being taken down by a hyena."

South Korea plans to send a warship to the region to combat the pirates.

Earlier this month, the British Navy killed 2 pirates in a gun battle. The HMS Cumberland was on an anti-piracy patrol as part of a NATO maritime force, but the confrontation is the exception. Most have responded to the threat with endless talk.
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