Pirates are only part of a much bigger problem in east Africa

November 20, 2008


IT IS tempting to be jaunty about piracy. So what if a few Robin Hoods in skiffs nick the odd tanker off the Horn of Africa? Often enough, the owners pay ransom and nobody gets hurt. Everyone needs a living in these hard times. And if the worst comes to the worst, gunboats can always be dispatched to clean the problem up, just as the British and Americans did off north Africa’s Barbary coast at the turn of the 19th century.

It is tempting, but it is wrong. The Barbary pirates caused immense human and economic damage, and the current spate of piracy in the waters of east Africa is now getting out of hand too. On November 15th pirates operating hundreds of miles from the coast seized the Sirius Star, a supertanker carrying 2m barrels of Saudi oil (see article). A dozen or so other vessels are already held by pirates. One of them—surrounded by American and Russian warships—contains a cargo of 33 T-72 tanks, enough to tip the balance in a small local war.—More—