While kidnapped German cruising sailors wait for rescue in the mountains of lawless Somalia, Canada has taken action on the pirate crisis in the Gulf of Aden.
HMCS Protecteur centre with HMCS Iroguois on its left and HMCS Calgary on its right
Canada has sent three warships to help thwart swarms of modern-day Long John Silvers and Jack Sparrows who have been terrorizing maritime traffic in the area.
Piracy exploded into the news earlier this year when helicopter-borne French commandos captured five pirates and took them back to France to face trial. The pirates, from the breakaway part of Somalia known as Puntland, had stormed a luxury yacht and held it and its 30 crew members hostage until a ransom was paid.
'My own son thinks of pirates as men with parrots, an eye patch and a wooden leg, but what has been happening out here is obviously not as romantic a notion as that,' mused Cmdr. Steve Paget, chief of staff for the Canadian flotilla, which includes HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Calgary as well as the Iroquois.
The problem of piracy in the Horn of Africa began to affect merchant vessels rather than only transiting yachts five years ago when Somali fisherman reacted to foreign overfishing by seizing trawlers and their crews and holding them for ransom. Civil war and anarchy had left their shattered government unable to protect its fisheries.
(Previous to this, it was Somali people smugglers who would turn into opportunistic pirates when they sighted yachts trying to reach the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.)
When such tactics produced money, it emboldened the pirates to go after freighters and yachts on their way to and from Europe and Asia.
'These guys are from Somali clans and operate from camps in lawless areas. They are desperate,' Paget said. 'This has proven more lucrative for them than anything else, and there has been nobody out here to catch them.'
There have been 24 acts of piracy off the Somali coast this year, the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau reported last week. Among the victims were a German-registered freighter and its mostly Ukrainian crew, seized in May and freed on July 8 for a ransom of $800,000. A Dutch freighter and its mostly Filipino and Russian crew held for 31 days and exchanged for a ransom as much as $700,000 in June.
In the meantime, no news about a German yacht with four people aboard which was captured two weeks ago raises hopes that a negotiation in underway. Information is scanty and unreliable, but they remain in the hands of pirates who have demanded $2 million to set their hostages free.