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Says US advisor Juan Carlos Zarate: “The U.S. has a very clear sense that, if you start to pay ransoms, you in essence create an industry for kidnapping,” he said. “And, frankly, it’s why you see an uptick in the piracy problem in East Africa. It’s a for-profit venture. It’s very lucrative at low cost for the pirates and it’s, in part, fueled by the fact that shipping companies in other countries have been paying ransoms for the release of ships, cargo and personnel.”

That just seems obvious to me. Paying millions in ransoms to pirates and terrorists enables them to purchase sophisticated equipment, buy friendships and favour, and encourages them to keep attacking civilian targets. It is short-sighted and stupid.

The French took an important intiative on this when they rescued Florent Lemacon’s family from the yacht Tanit. Lemacon himself was shot dead. French authorities will conduct an enquiry into whether he was murdered by the pirates or accidentally killed in cross-fire.

I found three things of particular interest about the hijacking and rescue of the Tanit.

First, the family had specifically and repeatedly warned about the dangers of Somali piracy, and that they should not go near the Gulf of Aden. I’m glad the French took the action they did. But Lemacon’s irresponsibility put not only himself and his family in danger, but also French personnel who rescued them.

Second, the French rescue was prompted by the fear that the pirates were considering either murdering the family, or taking them to shore, perhaps with a view to selling them to an islamist terrorist organisation. This would have made any rescue attempt much more dangerous and difficult.

And third, Lemacon’s father’s description of his son as a dreamer who had rejected western materialism. Defending the couple’s decision to take their son on a risky voyage, he said: “They chose a lifestyle. In their own way they were fighting with deeply held convictions for the right to live differently.”

Choosing a lifestyle is one thing. But since when did the ‘right’ to live differently include the right to put others in danger? We hear far too much about ‘rights’ and far too little about responsibility. And if you can afford a luxury yacht, with all the electronics and conveniences that Western technology can offer, and to sail your family around the world, in what possible sense have you rejected Western materialism?

But the big news of the day is the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips. Phillips had given himself up to the pirates in return for the rest of his crew being allowed to go free, after the crew had fought to regain control of their ship. US Naval forces killed three of the four pirates who were holding him. Another is being held for trial. Phillips is unharmed.

Thank goodness some decisive action has been taken at last. 

But the pirates will be angry. Some have already threatened to take revenge on any Americans they capture. And more than 250 hostages are still being held, including 92 Philippinos, and 16 Italians from a tugboat captured last Sunday.

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