The hijacking by Somali pirates of three Thai fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, 18th of April, bolsters our belief that the piracy problem will get worse before it gets better. The attacks occurred some 1,500 nautical miles NE of Mogadishu and 230nm west of Minicoy (Maliku) island, part of the Indian union territory of Lakshadweep. This is the farthest east that any attack has taken place since the EU Naval Force was established in December 2008 to patrol the waters off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden.

Initial reports of the attacks received by the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB Piracy Reporting Centre read like a template of past incidents involving Somali pirates. Armed pirates in skiffs opened fire on the target vessels under way, ordered them to stop, then boarded and hijiacked the vessels. The three Thai vessels were believed to have been taken to Somalia, with a total of 77 Thai crew as hostages.

There is speculation that the Somali pirates are shifting their attacks to the Indian Ocean to avoid the EU Navfor. If so, it means the Gulf of Aden naval patrols have somehow been effective. On the other hand, we may be seeing a new stage in the piracy problem, akin to a new phase in the development of a dreadful disease. Beefing up naval patrols in the Indian Ocean is impractical. The area is simply too vast. Similarly, a naval blockade of Somali ports known to be used by pirates is easier said than done. Arming the crews of merchant vessels? That’s a dangerous idea that we’d rather not contemplate, although it has been suggested many times before.

The problem won’t vanish unless the roots of it are attacked: the deep poverty in Somalia and the absence of a working central government in the Horn of Africa. Unfortunately, the situation seems too complicated for anyone, even the UN Security Council, to handle. In the meantime, the piracy attacks continue and international shipping is held hostage. ~Barista Uno

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