Wednesday, September 17, 2008

France Skirmishes With Pirates Near the Horn of Africa

Daniel Sekulich at Modern Day Pirates provides a good roundup of recent engagements between France and various maritime gangs off the coast of Somalia:

Earlier today, France sent its military forces into action against Somali pirates, dispatching a team of 30 commandos to free two French nationals being held hostage. One Somali pirate was reported killed and six others captured by the commandos, who rescued Bernadette and Jean-Yves Delanne. The couple had been sailing from Australia to France when their sailboat was attacked on September 2 in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia’s northern coast.

This marks the second time French forces have engaged Somali pirates, the first incident being in response to the hijacking of the luxury cruiser Le Ponant in April. At that time, the French captured six pirates alleged to have been participants in the commandeering of the cruise vessel, taking the Somalis to France where they currently await trial on a variety of charges. The gang that was holding the Delanne couple apparently demanded the release of their pirate brethren from French prison, as well as a ransom of $1.4 million.

On Sunday, another French vessel – a tuna boat – came under rocket fire by pirates while sailing some 400 nautical miles off the Somali coast, in the Indian Ocean. Whether the attack on the fishing boat was related to the capture of the Delannes is not known. But it should be noted that the issue of illegal fishing and over fishing of stocks off Somalia has been the cause of previous pirate incidents.
OK, it may be facecious to suggest that these incidents are the opening shots of an ongoing low-intensity conflict on the seas off Somalia, but note that the International Maritime Board has tracked a marked increase in attacks in the region since last year - seven attacks occurred in the region this week alone - military responses from the US, Canada and France have increased accordingly. Danger Room has more.

It will be interesting to see how prominent an issue maritime security will be on the agenda on next year's "World Ocean Conference." My guess is: prominent - if only because the conference is being hosted by Indonesia, a state previously known for one of the worst pirate problems in the Straits of Malacca, but who with the coordination of its neighbors has managed to reduce the incidence considerably. Can the world's governments come to terms that could extend cooperation over maritime security issues beyond regional straits and toward the high seas? Or will other concerns take precedence?

One of the issues under discussion should be who has responsibility for assisting hostages. France's hard line this week, it should be noted, only regards its own nationals. But as Amnesty International reports, 130 other people of various nationalities are also being held by pirates in this region. Whose responsibility is it to protect them?

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