Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science

WORLD

Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science
“Piracy has stopped oceanographic work in the region,” says one scientist. “There’s been no data coming out of this area [the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa] for years. Zero.”

These pirates, heavily armed with grenade launchers, seized control of the Ukrainian ship Faina in 2009. Faina was carrying sensitive cargo—tons of Russian-made tanks and other heavy ammunition. Faina and her crew were released after being held hostage for four months—for a ransom of $3.2 million. The pirates made a quick escape. Read more about the international effort to assist the Faina here. U.S. Navy photo by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

These pirates, heavily armed with grenade launchers, seized control of the Ukrainian ship Faina in 2009. Faina was carrying sensitive cargo—tons of Russian-made tanks and other heavy ammunition. Faina and her crew were released after being held hostage for four months—for a ransom of $3.2 million. The pirates made a quick escape. Read more about the international effort to assist the Faina here.
U.S. Navy photo by Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

Discussion Ideas:

  • As writer and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek writes in this article, some of the most notorious terrorists in the world are pirates who operate off the coast of Somalia and the Horn of Africa—the peninsula shaped like a rhino horn that juts into the northwestern Indian Ocean. Salopek focuses on the radical hinderance to science posed by the pirates: oceanography, paleoanthropology, climatology, and geology all have a 2.5 million square kilometer (960,000 square miles) “data hole.” Scientific research vessels are not the only target of these pirates, however. Can students think of other ocean-going vessels that pirates may target?
    • Oil tankers, merchant marine cargo ships, fishing vessels, and personal yachts have all fallen victim to pirates around the Horn of Africa.
  • What illegal activities do students think pirates operating around the Horn of Africa engage in?
  • Salopek identifies ships associated with oil companies as “jackpot targets for pirates.” Why do students think oil tankers and other oil-affiliated vessels are such jackpots?
    • These vessels are worth millions of dollars. Drilling boats are equipped with sophisticated technology. Oil tankers carry economically valuable shipments of petroleum.
  • Look at our map of Piracy in the Indian Ocean. It documents incidents in 2010, one of the worst years for piracy. Students can clearly see why Salopek calls the Gulf of Aden “the bull’s-eye of the Somali pirate’s hunting grounds.” Other mariners nickname the Gulf of Aden “pirate alley.” Why do students think pirates prowl the Gulf of Aden?
    • The gulf is part of a major shipping route. It is part of the Suez Canal network, linking the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean. There is a constant flow of ship traffic.
      • Ships carrying goods from Europe may travel through the Gulf of Aden on their way to ports in Asia and Australia.
      • Oil tankers may pass through the Gulf of Aden in the opposite direction, carrying petroleum from the Persian Gulf to ports in Europe.
      • Fishing vessels loaded with tons of fresh seafood may travel in both directions, bringing fish to markets throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe.
      • Cruise ships and personal boats may carry tourists in both directions. Rich history and coral reefs make the Red Sea one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. (The Red Sea is connected to the Gulf of Aden through the narrow Bab-el-Mandeb strait.) The tropical beaches of Maldives (in the Indian Ocean) are also popular with tourists.
  • The article identifies many countries taking aggressive steps to fighting piracy: the United States, France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Australia. Read through our “media spotlight” video on counter-piracy initiatives taken by the U.S. Navy. Can students name other organizations that target piracy? (The video names some.)
    • NATO, the EU, and the International Maritime Organization (part of the UN) are the leading inter-governmental agencies taking steps to combat piracy. Business-related organizations, such as the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (affiliated with the International Chamber of Commerce) work to document and prevent piracy. Non-governmental organizations, such as Piracy Studies, contribute to international understanding of piracy.
  • Governments, multi-national corporations, and international organizations have spent millions (perhaps billions) of dollars fighting piracy around the Horn of Africa. They are making some progress, as reported by Salopek in the article: Pirates are much less successful than they were just three years ago; many have been seriously injured and killed in altercations with foreign navies; and when captured, convicted pirates face a lifetime in prison. Why do students think people would risk these serious penalties for a life of piracy?
    • Somalia and other countries around the Horn of Africa are desperately poor developing nations offering little economic opportunity. The economic livelihoods of many Somalis have been further threatened in recent years by civil war, terrorism, and illegal foreign activity off the coast. This illegal foreign activity includes European companies dumping radioactive waste off the coast of Somalia and Asian fishing vessels trespassing into Somali waters to harvest tons of tuna, shrimp, and lobsters.
      • Due in part to these pressures, some people see piracy as the only real opportunity to establish a secure life for themselves, their families, and their communities. This includes financed health care, employment, sanitation, organizational infrastructure such as business networks, practical infrastructure such as roads and homes, and technology such as electrical generators.
      • People who are not pirates may benefit from pirate activity. Merchants along the coast of Somalia benefit from piracy, as pirates spend money in these ports, providing jobs to hundreds of people. Local fishers have reported increased catches due to pirates scaring off illegal foreign vessels. International insurance agencies also benefit, making millions of dollars from high premiums on ships traveling through the Gulf of Aden.
      • Read our article “Pirate Problems,” where Capt. John Hawkins describes navigating the Horn of Africa. Hawkins clearly identifies an economic motive for pirates, and the difficulties faced by anti-piracy efforts: “When you are talking about people that are living off virtually nothing, it’s worth it. You are talking about winning the lottery for these guys that are successful on one pirate attempt . . . All those Navy ships they’ve put out there are spending millions, probably billions, over the years trying to beat guys that make $20 to $30 a month.”
  • What organizations or people would students work with to combat piracy? Why?
  • What methods would students take to combat piracy? What are the benefits and consequences of each?
    • military escorts for ships
    • economic sanctions toward local governments or organizations that allow pirates to operate
    • economic support for local governments or organizations that combat piracy
    • projects offering economic opportunity in the region
      • education initiatives
      • scientific cooperation (note that no Somali or African scientists were mentioned in the article)
      • business partnerships
    • direct government intervention to increase political security in the area
    • indirect government support for neighboring governments or regional organizations, such as the Arab League or Organization of African States

One response to “Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science

  1. Pingback: Pirates release Danish ship crew held in Somalia for 2 years - EarthThreats.com U.S News, International News, Breaking News·

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