Make piracy a costly affair

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When they touched down at OR Tambo International on Wednesday, Bruno Pelizzari and Debbie Calitz must no doubt have experienced a renewed appreciation of the feeling of liberty. They were back on home soil after 20 months in a Somalian dungeon – handcuffed, scarcely fed and treated like animals. Now they are back with their loved ones, and that is all that matters. We welcome them home and trust they will recover quickly from their misfortune.

Now that this harrowing ordeal is behind them, many questions remain unanswered. The go-betweens, the to and fro of complex negotiations, lurching from hope to despair, stubborn oaths not to reward kidnappers, and surreptitious diplomacy – the air is thick with intrigue.

Days after the couple were freed by their Somalian captors, details of the release remain sketchy. Was ransom paid? How much? By whom? Or was some sort of unseen leverage used and a trade-off done? Did Somalian soldiers prise them free? In what way did the Italians help? And what role did our International Relations officials in Pretoria play? The presence of Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at OR Tambo to welcome the duo indicates that her department played a big role.

That said, the larger question remains: how does the world rid itself of the piracy plaguing Africa’s east coast? How does it avoid the nasty squeeze between human life and refusing to reward criminality?

Patrolling south of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the western part of the Indian Ocean including the Seychelles, is one way. But it is a vast area, 4 000 000km2, for the European Naval Force (presently nine warships and five maritime patrol aircraft). Armed sentries aboard vessels is another. All of this is under way, as are pre-emptive operations on land.

The only way to effectively combat this villainy, however, is to switch the debate from the wisdom of rewarding them to what cost the world is prepared to impose on them for what they do.

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