The war on Somali pirates has moved to the bargaining table,to the crime labs, and to Somalia’s white beaches. With the beginning of East Africa’s stormy monsoon season, hijackings at sea are down, giving the coalition of pirate-fighting nations a chance to counter-attack. Their weapons: fingerprints, grassroots anti-piracy leagues… and 500 Somali men, in shorts and t-shirts.
The U.S. Navy, NATO and the other military forces patrolling East African waters, say it’s not hard to fight pirates, once you identify them. But Somali sea bandits blend in with innocent fishermen and toss their weapons over-board when they’re caught, so that nobody can prove they were up to no good. Piracy is a “complex legal issue linked to national law, international law and the law of the high seas,” NATO General Karl-Heinz Lather said, in May. Without good evidence, NATO has been releasing captured pirate suspects on the nearest Somali beach.
Interpol, the international police force, is hoping to change that, by collecting fingerprints of pirate suspects. “Without systematically collecting photographs, fingerprints and DNA profiles of arrested pirates and comparing them internationally, it is simply not possible to establish their true identity or to make connections that would otherwise be missed,” Interpol executive director Jean-Michel Louboutin said yesterday.
Meanwhile, on land in Somalia, the U.S.- and U.N.-backed “transitional government” has recruited 500 men to fill the ranks of an anti-piracy force. The men began training last week, in their “simple uniforms of shorts and white T-shirts.” The force is riding a rising wave of popular opposition to pirates, whose crimes have disrupted international efforts to stabilize Somalia. Some reports have pirate bosses pleading for leniency from incensed imams and elders.