Somali pirates indicate they will kill their latest civilian captives, in this case a Danish couple and their three children between the ages of 12 to 16, if any attempt is made to rescue this family in peril. The five Danes were captured as they sailed in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of Somalia last Thursday, just days similar pirates murdered four Americans captured on a sailboat far off the coast of Somalia.
Most believe the murder of the four Americans will change the rules of engagement practiced by the international anti-piracy naval forces that patrol these dangerous waters. Pirates, by use of captured "mother ships," now travel up to 1,500 miles from their coastal lairs to attack merchant ships, sailing craft and even international naval ships on patrol. The Johansen family that now finds itself in the hands of the pirates should have known better we are told. After all, they knew that the two American couples had been captured the week before. This is not the time for recriminations though, as the very lives of the five Danish world travelers are now in the hands of potential killers who seem to have no sense for the value of a human life.
Pirate leaders are arguing among themselves as what amount of ransom they should demand for the release of the five Danes, noting that some believe a $1 million dollar ransom was paid last year for the release of a British couple held by these pirates for 388 days. The average ransom paid last year for the release of a commercial ship was $5.4 million with up to a $10 million dollar ransom paid to the pirates in one case. These ruthless cutthroats currently hold at least 33 ships and 700 crew members hostage, and they are out prowling these same waters for other victims on a daily basis.
The pirates have became much more aggressive after one of their own was convicted in a US District Court and sentenced to 33 years last month for his role in the 2009 attack on the Maersk Alabama and the kidnapping of its American captain. Evidently a pirate spokesperson has stated they will not allow themselves to be taken prisoner again, noting that 15 were still captured by US Special Ops troops after the murder of the four Americans. That act of murder and now the capture of the Johansen family has been a game changer for the pirates, and has ratcheted up the confrontation between the pirates and the navies of the world. The old "understood" rules of pirate hijacking stated that pirates captured ships and crews, held them and negotiated with the ship owners, and eventually released both ship and crew for ever increasing ransom payments, usually with little danger to the pirates. The ranks of the pirates have also changed from simple out of work fishermen to vicious criminal gangs that have tortured hostages at will.
The pirates appear to be forcing a "show down" between themselves that the naval warships trying to protect shipping across the thousands of square miles of ocean off the coast of Somalia, a country that has not had a functional government since 1991. And while the pirates may believe that the world is so focused on Egypt, Libya and other Middle Eastern powder kegs that little attention can be paid to them, the wanton murder of men, women and children by the pirates cannot go unanswered. No one wants a new ground war in Somalia, but the navies of the world will need to increase the number of war ships and resources currently dedicated to these dangerous waters in order to establish some type of order. Realize, though, that we will then be faced, time and time again, with the terrible picture of pirates holding guns to the heads and knives to the throats of hostages, almost daring the confronting military forces to attempt to retake the hostages by force.
This is not a pretty picture to imagine, and while some believe the answer will be found in overwhelming manpower and firepower, others admit that piracy has simply become too lucrative for the pirates to it give up. Meanwhile the lives of three children and their parents, plus those of 700 other hostage are irrefutably tied to the fate of the pirates. Many people are likely to die before this ongoing crisis is resolved.
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