Danish Family Held Hostage: Why Somali Pirates Are Getting Bolder
Seven Danish citizens, including three children, have been kidnapped by Somali pirates and moved to a ship where other hostages have been sequestered. The group of Danes were taken from a yacht anchored off the Somali coast on February 24th. The case has become a cause of international concern as this is the latest in a string of increasingly high profile pirate attacks in the area. The Somali coast along the Indian Ocean has been a hotbed of pirate activity for several years, particularly since 2005.
Husband and wife Jan Quist and Birgit Marie and their children Rune, Hjalte, and Naja, who are between 12 and 16 years of age, along with two other family friends were the kidnapped just two days after four Americans were shot dead in the aftermath of a failed rescue attempt by the US navy.
This Danish case has caused a great deal of anger, incredulity and insistence on international intervention . It is rare that children are taken as captives by Somali pirates. Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen said, “It’s almost unbearable to think that there are children involved and I can only sharply denounce the pirates’ actions.” The majority of piracy cases involve cargo vessels sailing around the busy shipping lane near the Gulf of Aden. The Johansen family from Kalundborg, a town 75 miles west of Copenhagen, had been making their way to the Suez Canal to pass from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean.
The family blogged 5 days before the attack that they had created a response plan in the event of a pirate attack. They also noted that they had seen and been reassured by counter-piracy planes patrolling waters around them. They also wrote that they believed they were relatively safe because the hijacking of the Americans had happened hundred of miles away from their location. A fellow Danish yacht owner, Per Gullestrup, said that it was “totally insane” for the Johansens to sail into such dangerous waters: “They sailed right into the pirates’ arms.
One of the pirates, calling himself Muse, who was associated with or informed on the situation with the Danish group, spoke to the Associated Press and stated that they were safe and had been transferred to another ship which was holding many other hostages. Muse indicated that this was for the family’s own protection: “They were just transferred from the boat to the big ship. They have been added to other nationals in another ship to avoid any possible attack.”
Another person claiming association with the group, Abdullah Mohamed, stated that any rescue attempt would result in the death of the group. Yet another Somali, Ibrahim Harawo, who claimed to be a member of the group, indicated that the family had been split up within the ship. Mohamad said that the ransom price had not yet been decided upon, due to pressures from entities bankrolling the pirates activities. While international responses have increasingly proposed rescue missions, the pirates have demonstrated more than once that their threats of violence are not merely bluffs; they executed two Portuguese sailors after a failed rescue attempt.
The European Union has a naval force dedicated to anti-piracy activity and stated that Somali pirates are currently holding at least 700 hostages and 31 ships along the coast. Somali pirates have made millions of dollars in ransoms paid by governments and individuals. One recent hijacking resulted in the capture of an oil tanker with over $200 million dollars of crude oil aboard. While piracy off the coast of Somalia garnered about $238 million dollars in profits for the entities involved in 2010, the international impact, including insurance, shipping lane diversion and armed protective measures, has been estimated between $7 billion and $12 billion dollars annually.
There is quite of bit of debate in international security circles about the effect of affluent countries and individuals acquiescing to ransom demands. Are pirates being encouraged by the fact that several ransoms have been paid in order to secure the release of hostages? Another point of consideration that is almost to obvious to mention—why do we only hear about the affluent, white American or European hostages? This is not to say that the case of the Danish family is not worthy of international attention, but we do not hear nearly enough about the plight of the Somali people, who have endured an almost total collapse of infrastructure due to the Somali Civil War.
One of the proposed solutions to the pirate problem would entail focusing more attention on assisting Somalia. It has been suggested that one of the ways to reduce the economic pressures and lawlessness enabling Somali piracy would be to work with Somali people to reestablish an internationally recognized government in the region. A comprehensive effort to reduce poverty, rebuilt infrastructure and security forces, and establish employment-generating industries could be a two-fold success—reducing piracy and addressing its root causes, extreme poverty and a lack order. In an effort to move forward with political reform in Somalia, a prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamad, was appointed in October of last year with the intention of readying the country for general elections sometime this year.
You can follow Jacklyn on Twitter @TheVelvetDays.
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