Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pirates to India: This Time It’s Personal

Pirates to India: This Time It’s Personal: "

Pirates holding a group of Indian hostages off the coast of Somalia are changing the unspoken rules of piracy, showing solidarity with captured comrades and trying to make countries even more hesitant to launch rescue raids.

Over the weekend, a group of pirates holding the Asphalt Venture, a Panamanian-flagged merchant vessel, were supposed to let the ship’s Indian crew go after receiving a $3.5 million ransom. But in a first for Somali pirates, the brigands decided they wanted to punish India for its aggro anti-pirate stance.

The pirates kept the money and released only eight hostages, holding onto seven. They then demanded India swap their 120 comrades captured by the Indian navy over the past weeks, vowing to hold onto any Indian nationals taken until then.

Thus far, expressions of pirate solidarity have been heard but not really seen. In January, pirates vowed to kill any of South Korea’s captured nationals after its commandos stormed the hijacked Samho Jewelry and killed eight pirates in the process. And shortly after U.S. Navy SEALs killed three pirates holding hostages from the Maersk Alabama in 2009, their colleagues vowed revenge against the United States. They’ve not followed through — unless you count rocket propelled grenades fired at the U.S.-flagged Liberty Sun,, but that’s hard to distinguish from a typical attempted hijacking.

The Indian government doesn’t appear to know what to do yet. On Monday, it announced that the INS Talwar, which conducts anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden, will set sail for the eastern coast of Somalia towards the Asphalt Venture. Officially, the Talwar won’t launch any swashbuckling boarding operations, as it’s just there to “keep a close eye on the situation.” Officials have ruled out using their special forces to free the hostages.

Whether the Talwar launches a raid to free the remaining hostages or not, it’s clear that some kind of threshold has been crossed here. The pirates holding the Asphalt Venture aren’t just looking to pressure a company for ransom now, but to scare off a country from launching rescue missions later. For India, already facing more pirate attacks closer to its shores, a violent end to the Asphalt standoff could make the escalating violence in piracy even worse.



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