Associated Press
The Greek cargo ship Centauri was hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast and released
Nov. 27 after more than two months in captivity.

Somali Pirates' Press Coverage Hits Fever Pitch

December 09, 2008 11:26 AM
by Christopher Coats
Over the last year, pirates off the coast of Africa have caused a media frenzy and captured international curiosity.

The Quest for Pirate Headlines

Anchored by ongoing standoffs between seized high-value vessels and international law enforcement, encompassing naval forces from Russia to India to the United States, the ongoing pirate narrative has invaded virtually every corner of the media landscape.

Despite the occasional lull in activity, the recent capture of a Ukrainian ship carrying a fleet of tanks and a Saudi oil tanker valued at $100 million have kept international audiences engrossed in the story.

Although sea piracy never fully disappeared—shipping lanes throughout Southeast Asia and around the Horn of Africa have been vulnerable for decades—the payload and brazenness of the latest hijackings has captured international curiosity in a way that few events still do. An undeniable spike in activity off the coast of Somalia over the last year has brought special attention to this area in particular. Just since October, pirates operating from Somali ports have attacked more than 30 vessels, taking 12 of them by force.

Background: All pirate things considered

Public curiosity and press accessibility—in September, The New York Times conducted a phone interview with Somali pirates—have pushed media agencies and online personalities to explore every angle to the pirate drama, even when there is actually little to report.

As an example, an article published on Dec. 5 reported that Somali pirates had failed to successfully hijack a U.S. cruise ship in the Gulf of Aden.

Meanwhile, U.S. News & World Report looked to the ongoing battle between international forces and pirates for lessons on how best to deal with the persistent threat of al Qaeda. “In fact, historians and legal experts suggest, the centuries-old fight against piracy could go a long way toward improving the fight against terrorism,” wrote Alex Kingsbury.

Fox News took the pirate-terrorism link in a different direction in their article, “Pirates: The New Face of Terrorism?” In the article, the author suggests that “While we know of no specific ties to terrorism, one has to ask why these Somalian pirates have such well orchestrated plans.”

Asking how private companies might protect themselves from pirates when the United Nations and national navies may fail, Wired magazine looked at the rise in interest in “guns-for-hire” and the spike in business for companies like HollowPoint Protective Services and Blackwater.

Occasionally, this quest for new piracy headlines can take a toll on the validity of reports, witnessed recently when the story of an Indian Navy attack on a “pirate ship” made its way across the Web. The incident was immediately reported by outlets across the globe. However, it was later revealed that the vessel was in fact a Thai fishing trawler that had been captured by pirates earlier that day.

Hardly relegated to serious analyses of the events off the Horn of Africa, tongue-in-cheek reports telling of pirates venturing into the world of corporate bailouts have also found their way into the larger narrative.

Opinion & Analysis: Not a joke

Despite some outlets’ light-hearted approach to the spike in pirate activity, CBS News’ Andrew Cohen insists there is no reason not to take these attacks seriously as they could have far-reaching financial effects and show no signs of slowing.

“Beyond the jokes and the stereotypes, beyond the terror and the hostages, there is a swirling, circular legal canopy caused by the new rise in piracy, and on it is written a series of diplomatic, military and political disputes stirring angst among vast shipping enterprises, huge insurance companies, and various naval forces in that under-noticed area of the world,” Cohen wrote.

One arguably positive aspect of the increased attention being paid to the East African nation is a renewed spotlight on Somalia’s fragile domestic stability. On, author Diana West implored her readers to “Pay Attention to the Somalis.”

Reference: Pirate alerts


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