Let’s be perfectly clear: Somali pirates are not nice people. In a decade of banditry on a steadily-expanding slice of East Africa ocean turf, AK-47-armed sea thugs have attacked thousands of vessels, captured hundreds and held their crews for up to a year a time. It costs governments and shipping companies up to $12 billion a year to avoid or defend against the pirates — and to pay ransoms for ship’s crews that can’t flee or fight.
But for all their criminal behavior, Somali pirates have not gone out of their way to directly hurt or kill seafarers — until now.
In recent weeks, there have been reports that some pirates are “torturing” their hostages. Contrast this with 2009, when one pirate told Wired’s Scott Carney that “hostages — especially Westerners — are our only assets, so we try our best to avoid killing them.”
If the reports of torture are true, the implications are serious for the loose alliance of governments struggling to contain Somali piracy. In the grand scheme of things, pirates are not actually a huge threat to the global order, although their regional effect is pretty severe.