Pirate attacks on the rise and expected to get worse

Armed Somali pirates carry out preparations to a skiff in Hobyo, northeastern Somalia, ahead of new attacks on ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bob Moon: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is exploring new strategies to fight pirates from Somalia. They've become a growing threat to sea traffic in the region. And Clinton told lawmakers this week that she's "fed up with it."

For some background on this problem, we've called upon Bronwyn Bruton. She's a fellow with the One Earth Foundation, and joins us from our D.C. studio. Good morning.

Bronwyn Bruton: Good morning.

Moon: So I'm hearing that 2011 is going to be a banner year for pirates. Why is that?

Bruton: The pirates have a great operating model. They have a system where they use motherships to go very far out into the ocean. And they're only about 35 ships on the water right now that are attempting to deal with these pirates. So it's an open hunting ground for them, and because of that, it looks like they're going to increase the number of hijackings from last year.

Moon: Now how far out is this spreading now with this mothership idea, and is there any way to rope that back in?

Bruton: They're going as far east as India, and as far south as Madagascar. If an attack takes place, you know, four or five days away from where one of these naval vessels is, there's no way for them to respond in time. If the ships make it back to Somalia, once they're there, they're virtually unobtainable.

Moon: Now if you read very much about this, you hear about the finance arms and operations managers of these pirating organizations. It sounds like they have business plans and investors -- is there a parallel to how legit businesses are run?

Bruton: There is. Pirates are extremely well-organized. For a long time, there was actually rumors that there was a stock market, where if you were a widow whose husband had left a gun, you could go and invest it in a pirate operation and get a return on your weapon. There are concerns that these pirates are launching attacks based on intelligence provided by shipping industry officials, for example. There are concerns that the pirates are getting income from businessmen in the Middle East, international investors.

Moon: Is this only going to get worse?

Bruton: I fear it probably will get worse before it gets better. In the last year, there's been an extremely alarming trend, a stark increase in the level of violence. Unfortunately, I think you can really tie this to some very successful efforts by the shipping industry to prevent pirate attacks. It's getting harder and harder for the pirates to get on the ships. And as their frustration increases, the level of violence is going up very, very rapidly as well.

Moon: Bronwyn Bruton is a fellow with the One Earth Foundation. Thanks for your insights this morning.

Bruton: Thank you.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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