Monday, April 20, 2009

Canada vs. the pirates

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With so much attention on piracy off the coast of Africa, mainly because of the taking of the Maersk Alabama and its captain, there seems to be a stepped-up international effort underway to address the problem.

And -- Oh Canada! -- this was something:

Canadian sailors apprehended a band of Somali pirates at gunpoint early Sunday morning after a seven-hour pursuit across the Gulf of Aden, much of it under the cover of night.

HMCS Winnipeg, sailing off the Horn of Africa as part of a NATO-led anti-piracy mission, was escorting a United Nations food shipment when it happened on a skiff carrying seven bandits attempting to hijack the MV Front Ardenne, an 80,000-tonne tanker from Norway.

The Somalis ignored warning shots fired by a Canadian naval helicopter and fled the scene. HMCS Winnipeg, led by Commander Craig Baines, left the food shipment to other NATO vessels and gave chase.

An American ship also joined the pursuit. It was the Canadians who got to the pirates first.

The effort, which includes "a patrol of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that includes ships from Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States," is admirable -- and ought to be the start of further engagement. Joint military operations can focus both on rooting out the pirates and on protecting cargo ships in the region.

Prime Minister Harper is right, though, that, as of right now, there are serious limitations on what can be done, and hence on what can be achieved. First, there is the problem of Somalia itself. Until that anarchic country is stabilized, piracy will continue to pose a threat. Second, the Canadian military couldn't arrest the pirates, as it does not have the authority to do so. Until a legal process is in place that allows for the detention, as well as the prosecution of these pirates -- who, in this case, were disarmed and eventually released -- the international effort will lack the bite to go along with a bark that is getting louder.

Still, this incident proves that military engagement in the region, if only in the form of protection, can work. At the very least, cargo ships -- and 42 were captured in 2008, "including a Saudi supertanker called the Sirius Star and the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks" -- aren't entirely sitting ducks.

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  • All these actions seem a bit pointless to me since the pirates will never be punished. Captured, told they are bad people, slapped on their hands, but that's it. Eventually, they're released just to get together for another round of this. The Somali Government should be the place where changes need to be made. Nevertheless, impressive feat by the Canadian navy.

    Take care, Elli

    By Anonymous Canada Realtor, at 6:43 AM  

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