Pirate Hostages Increasingly Likely to Die
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Pirates and Captives (photo: Jason R. Zalasky, U.S. Navy)
Piracy in Somalia is a booming business that is getting more violent and deadly. With the world economy in crisis and their anarchic nation topping an annual list of failed states for the fifth straight year, Somali pirates in 2011 took in an estimated 31 ransom payments worth $160 million…and caused the deaths of 35 hostages, 19 of them during rescue operations. Considering that Somalia’s exports are estimated to be about $300 million, the value of piracy to the underdeveloped Somali economy and the impoverished young men who are lured onto pirate crews is hard to overstate or replace.
There were 439 incidents of piracy worldwide in 2010, 239 (54%) of them off the Somali coast, where Somali pirate vessels range hundreds of miles out into the Indian Ocean, boarding container ships sailing south toward the Mozambique Channel. Somali pirates held 1,206 people hostage in 2011, including 561 people captured in 2011 and 645 people who were taken in 2010 and remained in captivity for all or part of 2011. As governments like the U.S. and the U.K. try to combat piracy by making it harder for shipping companies to pay cash ransoms, the average length of captivity for hostages held in 2011 was eight months, or 50% longer than the 2010 average. There are 26 hostages who have been held for more than two years and 123 hostages who have been held for more than one year as of May 31, 2012.
The increase in fatalities may be due to increasing firepower on both sides. As AllGov reported last year, ship owners are making increasing use of private armed security firms, which are reported to have prevented 81 (43%) of the 189 attempted hijackings in which pirates fired upon vessels. The pirates, however, are responding with more aggressive tactics and increased firepower themselves, leading to more firefights and casualties.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, half of all hostages in 2011 were subjected to physical violence, such as punching, and 10% were subjected to extreme abuse, including assaults with tools like sticks, wires, rifle butts, plastic ties, cigarette butts, and pliers used to squeeze fingers and pull out fingernails. Hostages were also forced to stand for extended periods in the burning sun.
With so much money at stake, and so few other opportunities for Somali sailors, piracy and hostage taking are expected to continue to increase. Of the 17 hijackings reported so far in 2012, twelve have been off Somalia's coast
To Learn More:
Fighting Pirates for Profit in the 21st Century (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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