The recent murders of four Americans sailing off the coast of Somalia have led to calls for a tougher action against Somali pirates. Many argue that paying ransom only encourages more piracy, and that stronger action against the pirates is needed. Unfortunately, however, effective alternative options to stop piracy are limited, and tougher action will likely make the situation worse.
Until a few months ago, the Somali pirates treated their hostages well. The chances for a successful, if expensive, resolution were high, and violence against hostages was minimal. The greatest physical threat that hostages faced was lack of food and clean water. Their treatment was in stark contrast, for example, to the violent kidnappings in Mexico, where torture and mutilation are now routine mechanisms used to pressure families and businesses to pay substantial ransoms. But despite the deployment of ever larger counter-piracy flotillas, the incidence of piracy has increased off Somalia, and the patience of governments has begun to run out. Deadly raids have been undertaken against the pirates, but the attacks have only resulted in escalating violence by the pirates. Rumors of private militias being raised to attack the pirates on land also seem to have made the pirates even more trigger-happy.
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