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Heroes in a Land of Pirates
If the New Year’s Day capture of an Indonesian tanker is any indication, 2010 will not herald an end to the attacks. As one Somali pirate told me last year: “Sometimes, we capture ships when [warships] are right around us. We don’t care about them. They’re not going to stop us.” Indeed, the pirates’ range has expanded to more than 1,000 miles off the Somali coast — as far as the Seychelles — and the futility of an exclusively naval strategy is increasingly apparent.
The situation is not without hope. There might be another way to make greater strides against pirates. However, it would involve allying ourselves with a place that doesn’t exist: the autonomous region of Puntland, Somalia.
To the ancient Egyptians, the land of Punt was a source of munificent treasures and bountiful wealth. Modern Puntland, a self-governing region in northeastern Somalia, may or may not be the successor to the Punt of legend. As I discovered when I first visited, last year, it contained none of the gold and ebony that dazzled the Egyptians, save perhaps for the color of the sand and the skin of the nomadic goat and camel herders who have inhabited it for centuries.
More on Piracy at Sea
There have been seagoing pirates throughout history -- from plundering Vikings to 17th-century raiders who pillaged Spanish galleons. In recent years, a spate of attacks off the Horn of Africa has shown that piracy can still be highly profitable as well as dangerous.
In Somalia, a country of grinding poverty and internal chaos, the pirate economy is booming. The piracy is an extension of the corrupt, violent free-for-all that has raged on land since the central government imploded in 1991. It has turned the waters into the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.
Somali pirates carried out a record number of attacks and hijackings in 2009, despite the deployment of international warships to thwart them and a United Nations Security Council resolution to bring the fight against them to shore.
The pirates have spread themselves across thousands of square miles of water, from the Gulf of Aden, at the narrow doorway to the Red Sea, to the Kenyan border along the Indian Ocean. Another center of piracy, southeast Asia has seen a decrease in attacks in recent years.
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