I'm Shirley Griffith.
I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we tell about a wave of crime taking place
in the warm waters off the east coast of Africa.
weather was good on the morning of April eighth. One sailor described the sea as being as
smooth as glass. The container ship,
Maersk Alabama, was sailing through the Gulf of Aden to the port of Mombasa,
Kenya, on the east coast of Africa. The
American-operated ship carried thousands of tons of agricultural materials for
the World Food Program and other aid organizations.
for days, a small boat had been following the Maersk Alabama. In it, four heavily armed Somali men were
watching and waiting. Now, the pirates
saw their chance. They moved to board
Richard Phillips sounded a warning and the crew took positions in several parts
of the ship. Soon the pirates had
climbed on board.
goal: hijack the ship and hold the crew hostage until the ship's owners paid
for their release.
One of the pirates pointed a gun at Captain Phillips
and demanded that he order the crew to surrender. But the crew avoided capture by hiding in
places like the engine room for many tense hours. As the pirates spread out searching for
hostages, the crew was even able to capture one of the Somalis.
the captain had something to negotiate with. He offered the pirates a deal. He
suggested the pirates could escape using one of the ship's lifeboats. They could hold him until the crew released
the captured Somali. Then, they were to let
him go. The pirates agreed.
three Somalis climbed into the lifeboat with the captain. Then, the crew released the captured man. But the pirates did not keep their word. Once they were reunited with their partner,
they fled with their hostage. Captain
Phillips had saved his crew and ship--but at the cost of his freedom and
possibly his life.
The crew followed
the lifeboat holding Captain Phillips and his captors. Soon they were joined by the U.S.S.
Bainbridge, a United States Navy warship.
Somalis held Captain Phillips for five days. He made an unsuccessful attempt to escape by jumping into the
ocean. But he was recaptured. The lifeboat ran out of fuel and had to be
pulled by the U.S.S. Bainbridge. The
situation grew increasingly tense as more United States warships entered the
area. The pirates threatened to kill
their hostage if they were attacked.
shortly after sunset on April twelfth, Navy special operations forces feared
that Captain Phillips' life was in immediate danger. With orders from President Obama to act in
such a situation, they opened fire, killing three Somalis. The remaining pirate surrendered.
officials have brought Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse to New York City to face
trial. He is the first person to be
tried on piracy charges in the United States in more than one hundred years.
African pirates are a growing threat to international shipping. About twenty thousand ships pass through the
Gulf of Aden each year on their way to the Suez Canal.
The International Maritime Bureau
reports there were one hundred eleven pirate attacks in waters near the Somali
coast last year. That is almost double
the number from two thousand seven. But already
this year, pirates have carried out more than eighty-four attacks in the waters
of the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast.
has a high economic price for ship owners and operators. The Congressional Research Service estimates
that pirates were paid more than thirty million dollars for the release of
ships and crews they held last year. Other estimates are even higher.
Nations resolution permits international naval forces to fight piracy in Somali
waters. About twenty countries have sent
warships to the area to protect merchant ships. Slowly, the international community is working toward a legal process to
try piracy suspects close to where they operate.
U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says Kenya has agreed to be the first nation in
the area to try Somali piracy suspects. In December, the East African nation agreed to deploy police on
international warships who would bring suspects to Kenya for trial. The U.N. crime agency is now seeking support
for the plan from the United States Congress. Agency chief Antonio Maria Costa says other nations in the area may join
the effort. But, he says, the plan's
success depends on international support.
Piracy became a serious problem off the
coast of Somalia after the collapse of the government in nineteen
ninety-one. The country could not police
its own waters. Foreign fishing ships
began illegally catching huge amounts of high-value tuna and shrimp in Somali
waters. One report estimates Somali
fishermen lost one hundred million dollars to foreign fleets.
Somali officials say some fishermen armed themselves
and began demanding money from fishing ships near the Somali coast about ten to
fifteen years ago. Those first attempts
at demanding a "tax" of foreign ships evolved into highly organized hijacking
operations. There are reports that
pirates cooperate with each other to seize ships.
Somali pirates are based in the lawless ports of the Puntland area. They use small boats with powerful motors to
chase down slower merchant ships. The
pirates have machine guns and rocket-powered bombs. They are also said to use global positioning and
communications devices. Most attempts to
hijack ships fail. However, recent reports
say they currently hold about twenty ships and about two hundred fifty
November, Somali pirates seized a Saudi oil tanker carrying two million
containers of oil. The Sirius Star is the
biggest ship ever hijacked. The attack
took place far from the coast showing the pirates' ability to carry out long
distance raids. In January, the pirates
claimed that they released the Sirius Star and its crew after three million
dollars was paid.
Piracy is not just a problem in the western Indian
Ocean. There is a possibility of pirate
attacks wherever there is poverty, shipping traffic and relatively little law
enforcement. The coast of Nigeria has
long been a high risk area. Most of the
attacks reported in Nigerian waters are on ships linked to the oil industry.
area of increasing danger is off the coast of Peru in the Pacific Ocean. Seven incidents were reported there in the
first three months of this year.
However, piracy had decreased in the Straits of Malacca
and the eastern Indian Ocean where it has traditionally been a problem.
Pirates have probably existed as long as valuable goods
have been transported by sea. Pirates robbed ancient Greek and Roman ships.
From the fifteen hundreds to the seventeen hundreds, pirates
from Britain attacked French and Spanish ships carrying riches. Some were known as "privateers." They were given special letters by the
British government to attack the ships of enemy nations. But privateers did not work for the
government. Their support came from
private investors who shared in the captured riches.
Over two hundred years ago, the United States struggled
with piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. A
group of small states on the coast of North Africa was seizing American ships
and holding their crews hostage. The
Barbary States, as they were known, demanded payment for the release of
hostages and safe passage of American ships. President Thomas Jefferson refused to pay. He sent the United States Navy on its first
foreign expedition to punish the states of Morocco, Tripoli, Tunis and Algiers.
First Barbary War stopped piracy against American ships for a time. But it was not until eighteen fifteen and the
Second Barbary War that the power of the Barbary pirates was broken. Commodore William Bainbridge was a hero of
that war. Today, the modern destroyer, the
U.S.S. Bainbridge, honors the American naval officer in name and in spirit. The warship will forever be linked to the dramatic
rescue of Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates.
program was written and produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Shirley Griffith.
And I'm Steve
can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports at
voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again
next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.