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Somali Pirates: Some good news, but still much bad

Rachel and Paul Chandler and Somali prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

Rachel and Paul Chandler and Somali prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed

The good news: As the New York Times reports:

A British couple who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates and held in captivity in a remote, swelteringly hot patch of central Somalia for more than a year were finally released, Somali officials said Sunday.The couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, were hijacked at sea in October 2009 while sailing in a small yacht in the Indian Ocean in a trip they described to friends as “the trip of a lifetime.”

The bad news: The Pirates “physically abused the Chandlers and kept them locked up separately for months.”

More bad news:

The Chandler’s ordeal seems to have been complicated and prolonged by the fact that the Chandlers were not wealthy and had few valuable assets besides their 38-foot sailboat, which the pirates snatched and then abandoned off the coast of the Seychelles.

Several people, including members of the Somali diaspora in London, had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off the pirates but according to Somali officials, that money got diverted and ended up being stolen by middlemen.

Ultimately, reports indicate, “a ransom of several hundred thousand dollars” was paid.

And still more bad news:

Somalia’s piracy problem seems to be growing, despite dozens of naval ships trying to essentially ring off the country’s pirate-infested coastline.

According to Ecoterra International, an organization with offices in East Africa that keeps track of Somali piracy, pirates are currently holding more than 25 foreign ships and 500 people hostage.

Some of the ships have been hijacked hundreds of miles offshore, closer to India than to Africa. The crews are often held at gunpoint for months while ransom negotiations play out. The ransoms are getting bigger, drawing more young men from Somalia’s ruined economy — the country has not had a functioning central government for nearly 20 years — into the piracy business.

Last week, a band of pirates received what is widely believed to be a record ransom, around $10 million, for a hijacked South Korean supertanker, the Samho Dream. The ship had been commandeered in April and anchored for months off the city of Hobyo, in central Somalia, in plain sight of the beach.

Sadly, it seems that unless the economy and governance structures of Somali are transformed, these pirate attacks will continue.

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Welcome! Who am I?

Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.