Inside the Capitol

Thursday, November 20, 2008

11-28 The Most Dangerous Waters in the World

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The most dangerous portion of our Middle Eastern cruise last month turned out not to be the Strait of Hormuz, where Iranian gunboats and American war ships almost clashed early this year.
The problem was around the corner, where the Gulf of Aden narrows into a choke point entering the Red Sea. There, Somali pirates began plundering ships earlier this year as they slowed to await their turn to enter the Red Sea.
For several years, Somali pirates had been attacking ships along their eastern shore on the Indian Ocean. But then their attention turned to Somalia's northern border and the Gulf of Aden, which separates it from Yemen.
That's the short cut between Europe and Asia, where much of the world's oil and cargo is transported. The pirates have become increasingly sophisticated, using their plunder to buy equipment that enables them to rule the seas.
The scene was shifting to the Gulf of Aden as our cruise liner was leaving the Red Sea. But first, we had to stop and wait for traffic coming into the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden.
As we lined up for our trip through the narrow strait, we were told over the sound system that the protocol was for warships to go first, followed by passenger ships, then cargo ships, oil tankers, ships over a certain tonnage, and finally boats.
When we began moving through the Strait of Bab el Mandeb (Gate of Tears) I noticed that just in front of us was a U.S. warship. I asked the cruise director if there was any significance, he said it was strictly coincidence because they mostly just cause us trouble.
For the next two days we sailed at 21 knots and it wasn't possible to get an Internet connection. The following day our speed slowed to 14 knots, the Internet came back on and all of us who had been inconvenienced were given 30 minutes of free Internet time.
Since then, piracy in the Gulf of Aden has increased to several ships a week. Ten nations have now sent military vessels to these, the most dangerous waters in the world.
As the pirates indiscriminately pick on whatever looks like an easy mark, more nations are being affected and it isn't taking long for them to start sending out their navies.
Nearby India is one of the latest nations to get involved. It has sent ships, helicopters and commandoes and last week became the first to sink a pirate ship.
The pirates, of course, say they are misunderstood. They actually are serving as the navy and coast guard for their nation, which has had 14 different governments in the past 17 years.
The pirates say they were once independent fishermen. But when their government became unable to protect its waters, other countries came in to take all their fish and dump toxic and nuclear waste.
Other nations denied any involvement but the 2006 Tsunami washed onto Somali shores the frightening evidence. The accused nations then said it must have been private companies they didn't know about.
Pirate leaders say with their fishing resources gone and their waters polluted they armed themselves and became vigilantes confronting the illegal fishing boats.
Soon many fishermen were trading their nets for machine guns and before long were hijacking any vessel they could catch. If they are caught, there isn't really any government to prosecute them.
And therein lies the problem. The nations of the world have given up on Somalia. And the deeper it sinks into anarchy, the worse the problem becomes.
With a $25 million demand for return of the Saudi oil tanker and its $100 million cargo, the pirates have entered the big time. The Italian mafia, which reportedly controls 30 percent of its country's waste disposal, already has been implicated in the illegal dumping.
And what about al Qaida? Wouldn't that be a nice revenue supply for them?
FRI, 11-28-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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