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Published: Sunday, 5/20/2012


Land pirates

Somali fishermen did not get into the business of piracy to make their lives even harder than they were. Snatching luxury and commercial vessels at sea, and holding crews and passengers for ransom, was once a low-risk affair.

Because pirate ships are small, they're difficult to detect on open seas. Western nations and commercial interests previously discouraged crews from arming themselves in response to threats.

But that's changing. China now sends gunboats with its supertankers through pirate-congested waters. India, Japan, and Russia also are sending armed patrols. Yet even though pirate ships are coming under increasing attack by sophisticated powers flexing military and technological muscle, the scourge has been only disrupted, not eliminated.

Last week, Somali pirates on the mainland were greeted by something few expected: strafing and heavy bombardment by European Union helicopters and warships. EU forces, in cooperation with the embattled Somali transitional government, targeted a pirate base near the port of Haradhere. Speedboats, fuel depots and ammunition supplies were destroyed without a single EU soldier coming ashore.

Strategists say the success of the military strike will force the pirates to reinforce land positions with anti-aircraft and other offensive weaponry. If so, Somalia will have to devote more resources and manpower to its operating bases.

That could compel the bandits to cut back on their lucrative ocean adventures. Harassing the pirates on land, before they can rob on the open seas, could be the smartest strategy yet.

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