The rescue of Richard Phillips, the American freighter captain held hostage by Somali pirates, came to a dramatic and happy conclusion on April 12 off the coast of Africa.
However, the problem of piracy in the waters remains, and may only be getting worse.
Captain Phillips was rescued by Navy Seal snipers on the U.S.S. Bainbridge. The three snipers took out the three pirates who held him hostage on a lifeboat, which might have some consequences for future hostages that were previously unharmed.
“This could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” said Vice Admiral William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet out of Bahrain, to The Associated Press after Phillips was rescued.
U.S. officials explained their actions, saying Phillips’ life was in great danger when the snipers struck and that they had no other option.
They went on to say that negotiations with a group of Somali elders had fallen apart earlier in the day, and Captain Phillips’ freedom was the top priority.
The pirates’ reaction to the events that led to Phillips’ rescue was not very heart-warming. “After the action they [The United States] took yesterday, we will respond with action,” Hassan Yare, a pirate in Somalia, told Time magazine. “We’re warning the owners of the other ships that if they try to attack, we will kill the crews and burn their ships.”
French troops have also carried out a number of similar military operations to free hostages taken by Somali pirates.
However, despite the success of the French and U.S. military attempts, trying to stop Somalia’s piracy outbreak by using warships or military force may prove futile when the real problem lies in Somalia’s government.
Often referred to as the world’s best example of a “failed state,” Somalia has experienced rampant political instability since civil war broke out there in 1991.
Currently, al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group with links to al-Qaeda, controls large parts of Southern Somalia in defiance of the government.
With a weak government, Somalia is unable to control the pirates on its coast. Since the rescue of Captain Phillips, at least four ships and more than 75 hostages have been taken by Somali pirates.
The United States is, however, trying to do its part in helping to get rid of piracy in the seas.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that meetings of an international counter piracy task force have been called in order to expand naval coordination. The United States also plans to send an envoy to an April 23 conference on piracy in Brussels.
American leaders will also organize meetings with officials from Somalia’s largely powerless government to encourage them to do more to combat piracy in their own waters.
In December, the United States pushed a resolution through the U.N. Security Council, clearing the way for international forces to conduct operations on shore in Somalia against pirate havens.
Pirates operate openly in several towns along the coast, but attacking those sanctuaries would be problematic because intelligence is thin and there are almost no easy targets. Gunmen and guns are seen regularly in Somalia, and pirates, like many other insurgents, easily mesh into the civilian population.
Walter Simmons, a professor of economics at John Carroll University, believes that military force is not the best solution.
“The problem is an internal one in Somalia’s government,” said Simmons. “If you kill three pirates, tomorrow there will be three more.”
Instead, Simmons thinks that the United States should provide the fragile Somali government, led by newly-elected President Sharif Ahmed, with economic and military aid, which would give it more power to defeat both the pirates and the al-Shabaab militants.