The Pirate Hunters

As buccanneering is back with a vengeance, stepped-up law enforcement and high-tech tools work to help protect shipping on the high seas

In the Persian Gulf, authorities are concerned about terrorism as well as piracy. Coalition vessels (the Coast Guard cutter Aquidneck, behind Coast Guardsman Zachary Coone) patrol exclusion zones around Iraq's Al Basrah and Khawr Al Amaya terminals, where tankers take on millions of barrels of oil daily. (US Coast Guard)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 5)

Ten days later, Jaden handed down her verdict and the sentence. Guilty. Seven years in prison for each man.

By then, the pirates might have considered themselves lucky. At the time, Somalia was ruled by a fundamentalist Muslim movement called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which sought to impose sharia, or Islamic law, when it took over the capital of Mogadishu from its notorious warlords in June 2006. Piracy was one of several crimes punishable by death.

Noel Choong told me that after the ICU takeover the IMB noted a lull in piracy in the waters off Somalia. But the ICU was overthrown and replaced by a transitional government at year's end. Since then, pirate attacks have surged off the Somali coast, from 10 reported to the IMB in all of 2006 to 14 in the first six months of 2007.

In February, pirates off the coast boarded and hijacked the merchant vessel Rozen, which had just delivered food for the U.N. World Food Programme. They held its 12 crewmembers for 40 days until an undisclosed ransom secured their release. Another merchant vessel, the Mariam Queen, was hijacked and held for 24 days before it was freed May 27 after the ship's owner reportedly paid a $100,000 ransom. At the end of that month, the IMB recommended that vessels keep 200 miles offshore unless they were calling into Somali ports.

"We'll never see the end of piracy, just as we'll never see the end of robbery on land," Choong said. "But we're doing everything we can."

Paul Raffaele, a frequent contributor to Smithsonian, wrote about wild dogs in the April issue.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus