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Pirates: a new step in escalation has been taken

Screening of suspicious pirates by Australian forces (Australian Department of Defence)

Shipowners who cry out about the lack of protection and demand determined action. Private guards and mercenaries offering their services. Pirates, better armed, and above all more nervous and less experienced. The situation is deteriorating in the Indian Ocean and is starting to become worrying. If piracy was usually spoken of in a half-serious, half-ironic tone, that time is now over. Both of them no longer hesitate to take their chances. And every confrontation now ends in bloodshed. As for the surviving hostages, they know that their detention could be long and will not be golden.

Each capture or reconquest results in “human destruction”"

In a few days, the results are indeed disastrous. The South Koreans knocked out 8 pirates on January 21 in their spectacular move to retake the Samho Jewelry. While the captain of the ship was seriously injured in the assault. The failed attempt to recapture the German ship by force on January 25 or 26 Beluga Appointment did between 4 dead (1 pirate and 2 sailors killed by bullets, 1 other sailor disappeared while diving to escape his captors). The shipowner, the Danish NATO and Seychelles Coast Guard ship, did not want to take responsibility for the assault. The capture by Somali pirates of a Sri Lankan fishing vessel, the Darshana 6, on January 27, also resulted in two deaths among fishermen. The resumption of Prantalay by Indian forces on January 28 did not end without apparent damage either. Since only 20 fishermen were recovered from the water out of a crew which numbered 26 people according to Ecoterra, that is 6 missing. Not to mention the pirates who may also have disappeared. According to the latest report (*) communicated by the Indians, there would be 10 deaths among the pirates and among the arrested pirates, several would be injured, including one very seriously. Etc… In one week, we are therefore at one about thirty of dead or missing, shared equally between pirates and fishermen or sailors. This is starting to do a lot. Only the military are spared (for the moment).

A regular escalation

The rule at sea seems to be as follows. On the pirates' side: 1) the shots are no longer simple warning shots to intimidate but are aimed at the target. Optimistic version: “they learned to shoot”, pessimistic version: “it’s voluntary, we are practicing terror”. 2) In the event of a loss in their ranks, pirates no longer hesitate to execute a hostage in retaliation. On the side of the multinational forces, the solution found to the lack of courts is at best not to count too many stray bullets, at worst to have a sort of extrajudicial death sentence. Practice used by Russians (Moscow University) or Indians.

It is also striking when we look at the “accounts” of losses to see that it is the missions operated on a national basis which have a higher rate of losses while the missions operated within a multinational framework (Eunavfor, NATO, CTF ) have a more limited loss rate. The evil tongues will say, it's normal, they have no offensive action.


We also need to put an end to a myth. Pirates are not sweet angels. Assuming they ever were. The crew of the Alakrana captured in October 2009 testified to this recently before the National Audiencia. Threats, mock executions and mistreatment seem to be common, as Gaizka Iturbe, a fellow aboard the tuna boat Alakrana, told the judges. Remained sequestered for 47 days, Iturbe delivers a poignant testimony in El Pais. “I have seen death several times. (…) A man with a bazooka loaded his gun and shot us in the head. When he was done he went to the bow of the boat and returned to do the same with a machine gun on a tripod".

A step was also taken in the capture, in May 2010, of the German ship Marida Marguerite. The testimonies given by the sailors to the German police officers who came on board in Oman, after their release a few weeks ago (read: No Christmas truce for pirates), are uplifting. Some have been so locked up naked for 40 minutes in the cold room of the boat while others were beaten ". Others were “ tortured in the genitals ". The pirates sometimes placed plastic bags over their heads “until they suffocated,” according to an official report, cited by the Spiegel. In other cases (this is a pirate “classic”), they claimed they had killed the captain or slit a sailor's throat or ran a knife through a sailor's scalp.

Find solutions. And quick

Regardless, the situation today is worrying. And the desire of some shipowners to use private companies is cause for concern. We anticipated the risk of an escalation several months ago. We crossed a rung of the ladder. With the mercenaries, it's obvious that we will cross a second one. It is therefore urgent – ​​as Jack Lang's report recommends – to address the issue of piracy globally and to urgently resolve certain issues. In particular the legal question.

For prosecuting pirates, the dilemma is simple. Either we agree quickly to put in place the proposed solution of the Somali court with international participation. Either we systematically repatriate to the flag state of the shipowner (“State of the victim”) or of the warship which apprehended the pirate (“State of the police officer”).

It is also necessary to resolve the question of accompanying merchant ships (boarding on board). And here too we must not procrastinate. It is the responsibility of the State. As with land or air routes, maritime routes must be secured by public authorities. Letting private companies do it means going back to even before the days of privateers. The solutions are not legion. Either the State offers troops (as France does), or it trains and supervises them quite strictly (as Spain does). In certain countries, it will therefore be necessary to modify the legislation to allow or regulate this intervention. This will require people. But certainly no more than in Afghanistan. For a risk that is undoubtedly more immediate and more proven. And a certain terrorist drift.

Finally, shipowners must stop creating gold mines and comply. Either they resort to a flag of convenience. And then asking for the protection of one's state of nationality looks like theft. It's a bit like the rule of the bankrupt speculator banker: “I refuse to pay the charges but I want the benefits and to be helped”. Then, they must agree to contribute to a fund which will finance the stabilization of Somalia, the legal treatment of pirates, the training of private guards, etc. All this has a cost. Shipowners and insurers will have to assume this. But, in the end, this additional cost will be found on the invoice of the end customer (us, you, they, etc.): in the price of the goods transported (fuel, food, gas, etc.).

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(updated Sunday evening)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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