Tragedy in paradise as Somali pirates strike

A 56-year-old woman kidnapped by pirates faces an unimaginable ordeal this week, after seeing her husband shot dead. Her story is part of a wider tragedy – that of the whole of Somalia.

In a perfect tropical setting, the hotel's guests swim, sunbathe, and dine on sumptuous feasts. It's an exotic spot, where in centuries past boats laden with spices and ivory would stop in the secluded bay as they travelled the trade routes between Arabia and Zanzibar.

This week, though, another vessel moored at Kenya's Kiwayu resort. At the dead of night, its crew stormed the cabin of two British tourists, shooting David Tebbutt dead during the ensuing struggle, and kidnapping his wife, Judith. It is feared that by now the widow will be in Somalia, 60 miles away.

The tragedy is likely to be the work of pirates from the war-torn country which borders Kenya to its north. These criminal gangs make a living from hijacking boats, demanding money for the hostages they capture. Last year, an alleged £620,000 ransom payment ended the 366-day captivity of another British couple, the Chandlers, just two of 1,090 seafarers taken hostage by pirates that year.

For Somali fishermen, whose catch has been reduced by multinational fishing boats, piracy offers an achievable and rare opportunity to make money. In the grip of famine and without a functioning government or formal economy, Somalia offers few other opportunities to earn a living.

For businesses carrying goods past Somalia's coast, the situation is disastrous. As well as threatening the safety of sailors, the costs of piracy – including ransoms, naval security and rocketing insurance premiums – are estimated at between $7 billion and $12 billion a year.

It's not the only threat that has sprung from Somalia's instability: there are fears that Al-Shabaab, the violent Islamist militants who control much of Somalia, could be responsible for this week's kidnapping.

Vicious fighting has recently broken out between the extremist group and Somalia's Mogadishu-based government. Although weak, the government is supported by Kenya, and Al-Shabaab may want to show their neighbours that the tourist industry on which they rely so heavily is vulnerable.

If Al-Shabaab are using Judith Tebbutt for this purpose it would be an aggressive tactic from the group, and no one is sure what their next move could be.

From sea to land

Somalia can seem, to the rest of the world, a land of miserable famine and lawlessness stuck in a rut of its own, tragically irrelevant to the onward march of global affairs. But, from Judith Tebbutt's ordeal to the rise of Islamism and the difficulties of the shipping trade, the plunging decline of this single country makes itself felt, like ripples from a dropped stone.

Is the broken nation a lost cause? One Somali recently described his country as 'a corpse at which vultures are picking'. Faced with such devastation, the international community is forced to deal with the consequences of Somalia's instability. But as these issues become increasingly threatening, is it time to return to their root, in Somalia itself?

You Decide

  1. Should foreign governments or international authorities pay ransoms to pirates?
  2. Do foreign powers have a right to intervene in Somalia's governance?

Activities

  1. When the Chandlers were released last year, a Somali taxi driver from London played a key role in negotiating their release. Imagine you were in charge of negotiating a hostage release situation, and draw out a plan for how you might go about the challenge.
  2. Create a presentation on the issues Somalia is facing now, and the recent history that led up to this situation. Display your findings in an interesting way, such as an infographic or presentation.

Some People Say...

“We are all responsible for what's happening in Somalia.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why not pay ransoms?
That's very controversial. Many countries, including the UK, believe that ransoms should never be paid for hostages, as this makes it seem more attractive as a way to make easy money. With lives at risk, however, there's often no other option. When the Chandlers were released last year, authorities denied at first that there was a ransom paid for them at all, then the precise amount was withheld.
How has the international community been helping on land?
Somalia's government, which is based in Mogadishu, the capital, is backed by the UN. But Al-Shabaab don't allow foreign intervention in any of the areas they control – not even famine relief. Some argue, too, that overfishing of Somali waters by other countries contributes to the country's problems.

Word Watch

Hijacking
Taking a boat, or another type of vehicle, by force, and using it for one's own purposes.
Hostages
People held by a group, with their release dependant on the fulfilment of certain demands.
Ransom
An amount of money demanded by a group for the safe release of a hostage.
Formal economy
Any trade which contributes to a country's gross national product, which goes on between recognised businesses, is monitored by government and is subject to tax,
Naval security
Enforcement of rules to ensure safety and legal trade at sea.
Al-Shabaab
A group of Somalian extremists with links to Al-Qaeda. They control most of the south and centre of Somalia, and impose strict Islamic law in the country.
Islamism
A highly political and extreme position on Islam, characterised by the belief in using violence to impose Islamic law and beliefs.

Subjects

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