NATO reported that the pirates had a 16 percent success rate in 2011. In 2008, the figure was around 35 percent.
Successful attacks, however, still reap spectacular ransoms. In 2007, Somali pirates reportedly banked over $30 million paid to free vessels and crewmen. The India Times estimated in 2010 ransoms exceeded $200 million. Credible? Who knows, but that year one South Korean tanker was allegedly ransomed for $10 million. A net of $12 million a month in ransoms might be a reasonable estimate, and that goes a long way in Somalia.
Ransoms are not the biggest cost. StrategyPage estimated that shipping firms spend $500 million a month for security measures. This cost is passed on to consumers. Oceansbeyondpiracy.org estimates military costs for the Somali anti-piracy operation run another $1.27 billion a year.
Thus the EU rationale for strikes on pirate maintenance and communication facilities: Stop the attacks where they start. At the moment, the directive forbids attacks by ground forces, so the assumption is this means precise air attacks. The directive, however, is controversial, particularly in Germany. Der Spiegel reported that German opposition parties are against the directive. Precise air strikes suggests helicopters attacking with cannons and missiles. The Germans do not want to face a "Blackhawk Down" scenario, with a chopper crew lost to Somali ground fire.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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