Maritime piracy is experiencing a renaissance not seen since the period of the Barbary pirates. Last year, 111 ships were attacked off the dangerous waters of Somalia: 42 were hijacked, 815 mariners were taken hostage and the ransom paid for the release of some vessels fetched several million dollars. In response, a combination of coalition naval power and statecraft is creating new international authorities to address piracy, but after the talking is over, concrete steps must be taken to implement and sustain the new initiatives.
A banner year for maritime piracy, the number of attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa doubled in 2008 compared with 2007. Instability from Somali piracy is reverberating throughout the global supply chain, which already was reeling from the worldwide economic slowdown. The resurgence is occurring along critical sea lines of communication. Each year, 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden, a vital shipping route for international trade that connects the Middle East to Europe and North and South America. In response to the threat to shipping, warships from the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Pakistan, India, Iran, Russia and other countries operate in the area. The European Union (EU) deployed naval forces to the Gulf of Aden under Operation Atalanta to conduct counterpiracy patrols, the first EU operational naval deployment outside Europe. China sent two destroyers and a supply ship 4,000 miles to fight Somali piracy, the first operational out-of-area deployment in the history of the PLA Navy. New Zealand and Australia also have joined the effort, South Korea is on the cusp of doing so and during the last week of January, Tokyo approved a deployment by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) as a "police action" to patrol as early as March.