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Pirates Cruising Under the Radar

There are certain costs to be paid for the attention-deficit disorder gripping the American public in the Twitter Age. Issues appear on the public radar screen only to disappear about 30 seconds later — even if the underlying problems haven’t changed a bit. Piracy is a good example. Back in April, the problem of Somali pirates was front-page news after they seized an American cargo vessel, the Maersk Alabama, and briefly held its captain hostage. The whole country applauded the actions of the SEAL snipers who killed three pirates and freed Captain Richard Phillips. Then our attention shifted to more pressing issues — like, for example, the death of a certain allegedly child-molesting singer.

Does this mean that piracy is no longer a problem? If only. Just the other day, I noticed this Reuters report:

Somali pirates holding a German ship with five Germans, three Russians, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos on board have received a $2.7 million ransom and are counting it before releasing the ship, a pirate told Reuters. . . . The German-flagged container vessel Hansa Stavanger was captured about 400 miles off the southern Somali port of Kismayu on April 4.

Received $2.7 million? That’s a pretty good payday in a country with a per capita income of $600. The fact that the pirates continue to get such lucrative rewards for their criminal activities means we will see more piracy — and that quite possibly some of the proceeds will wind up in the hands of the Shahab, the fanatical Muslim movement moving to take over Somalia. Yet piracy is off the front pages. It’s not on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox either — at least not that I’ve seen. So there is no pressure for the U.S. or its allies to do anything serious to combat this growing menace.

What would we do if we were serious? This Foreign Affairs article of mine offers some suggestions.


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