Terrorism on the High Seas

With the audacious hijacking of a Saudi supertanker off the Somali coast this week – for a total of at least eight such seizures in past days – the festering problem of piracy that has long-affected Indonesian shipping lanes has been firmly thrust into the public spotlight. And not before time.

Pirates have for years been attacking ships plying the Malacca Strait between Indonesian and Malaysia, drumming fear into pilots and crew as they commandeer their vessels. Inter-nation cooperation agreements have been drawn up and patrols of sea-lanes stepped up, causing a falloff in attacks.

Public perception of pirates as endearing, lovable old rogues is largely driven by Hollywood movies, including relent releases, but today’s breed of buccaneer is another manifestation of that global cancer: terrorism.

Would-be pirates in lawless Somalia appear to be goaded by a string of attacks off the East African nation’s coast, and while the Saudi-owned Sirius Star lay anchored again on Thursday, its international crew held hostage, talks were secretly in progress about a ransom over the vessel’s US$100-million crude-oil cargo.

A day earlier the Indian Navy sank what was described as a pirate “mother vessel” in the Gulf of Aden, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the surge in piracy and the International Maritime Bureau, a UN agency, said pirates based in Somalia were “out of control.”

With instances of hijackings on the sea becoming ever more daring, it’s little wonder there’s speculation that militants are the driving force. US intelligence officials believe the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group has taken over much of southern Somalia and may be about to overtake the capital, Mogadishu.

Ramped-up efforts are required to stamp out piracy no matter where it occurs and before radical groups are financially empowered to carry out attacks of an altogether different kind.

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