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Piracy News & Commentary

Pirates Threaten to Murder Hostages

According to Lloyd's List and other news feeds, including that of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pirates holding the Panamax* bulk carrier De Xin Hai have threatened to kill the hostages if any attempt is made to rescue them. The Chinese foreign minister has stated that a rescue attempt is in the works. Almost certainly, the threat to murder the hostages will increase the likelihood of a rescue attempt, or at least of its serious consideration. Violence in the form of rescues has been largely avoided so far due to the complexity of the special operations necessary to conduct such missions, to the risk to hostages, and, just as importantly, to the general unwillingness of Somali pirates to harm their hostages--their golden geese, in other words. The murder of hostages, particularly of those aboard ships belonging to nations capable of projecting sea power, would doubtless bring strong military retaliation. Such threats work against the pirates' best interests, and remind us why commercial shipping needs to protect itself, including by the use of armed guards.

Update, January 2010: the crew was "rescued," in the words of the Chinese government, via a ransom paid to the pirates in December 2009.

* "Panamax" is the term used to designate the largest class of ships capable of passing through the Panama canal.
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