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Combating The Threat Of Somali Piracy

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're going now to a warship that's patrolling for Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. This year, pirates have attacked more than 100 ships. They've hijacked more than 40. The pirates demand millions of dollars to release the vessels. Currently, they're holding more than a dozen ships. And, while a multinational force is patrolling the area, the Gulf of Aden is vast. NPR's Corey Flintoff is out on a French warship in the Gulf of Aden. And Corey, what can you tell us about where you are right now?

COREY FLINTOFF: Well, not very much, to tell you the truth, because of French security requirements. I can tell you that we're in the Gulf of Aden and that we're patrolling along the northern coast of Somalia, which, of course, is home to many bases for these pirates and their mother ships.

BLOCK: And as we mentioned, you are out on this huge body of water. What can you tell from being on this French warship about just how hard it is to try to stop these pirate attacks?

FLINTOFF: Well, it gives you a good idea about why it's so difficult to protect ships in this area. It is an enormous body of water. The captain told me the other day that there are about 27 merchant ships passing through the Gulf right now. We've been cruising for two days and so far, we've seen none of them. In fact, we haven't seen any kind of big ship. We have seen a couple of small vessels, one was a fishing vessel and the other was a trading boat that travels between Somalia and Yemen.

BLOCK: Uh huh. So, you haven't seen any of these other multinational forces that are out patrolling either?

FLINTOFF: No, we haven't. This French frigate is part of a European Union task force that's out here. It's composed of a lot of ships from various European nations. But we haven't been in direct visual contact with any of them at this point.

BLOCK: Would that French frigate that you're on be in a position to help out if another boat were to spot pirates or were attacked?

FLINTOFF: Well, Captain Beatriz, the commander of this vessel, told me that you'd have to be very lucky to be close enough to a ship that was in distress to be able to get there in time to help them. Some of the warships in this group have helicopters on board, and they are able to get to the scene of a pirate attack fairly quickly, sometimes in as little as 10 to 20 minutes. But these pirates act very quickly, you know. They pull alongside a merchant vessel, aim their weapons and take the crew hostage as quickly as they can. So, even that amount of time might not be enough to prevent an attack or a successful seizure of a ship.

BLOCK: The United Nations has also authorized suppressing piracy by any means necessary, even if that means attacking on land after pirates return there. Did the sailors have any thoughts on that?

FLINTOFF: They are interpreting that as meaning attacks on land and no officers that I've talked to have been very enthusiastic about it. They say the trouble with making an attack on land is that you endanger civilians and you - there's also the risk of the pirates taking reprisals against the hostages that they're already having. So in general, the officers that I've talked to don't like the idea of shore attacks.

BLOCK: OK. We've been talking with NPR's Corey Flintoff. He's on a French warship in the Gulf of Aden. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corey Flintoff
Melissa Block
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.