Indeed, French tuna fishing boats in the Indian Ocean all carry soldiers onboard. The Spanish too, following the Alakrana hijacking, have outfitted 33 fishing boats -- 18 of them flying the Spanish flag -- with security personnel following a bitter domestic debate. US ships between the Gulf of Aden, the Seychelles and Mombasa are at least partially armed.
Last Tuesday, pirates tried to hijack the US freighter Maersk Alabama. It was the second time the ship had been targeted -- last April pirates were able to take the ship's captain hostage and levy ransom demands. An audacious operation, during which snipers from an American warship managed to kill three of the pirates and take a fourth prisoner, ended the standoff. This time around, the pirates quickly turned tail when the Maersk Alabama opened fire.
But many incidents go unnoticed. It is likely dozens of pirates have lost their lives in the last two years due to high seas, un-seaworthy vessels and the inability to swim.
One report indicates that the Norwegian warship Fridtjof Nansen, patrolling the Gulf of Aden, came under fire last week during a night patrol. The sailors returned fire, killing a Yemenite and a Somali and wounding three others.
Spokespeople for the European Union's anti-pirate mission Atalanta have declined to confirm the report, merely saying that the Norwegians suffered no casualties. A spokesman for the Somali pirates claims that four additional Somalis were killed and two wounded last Wednesday. Which incident he referred to was unclear.
What might become of the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, who were kidnapped from their sailing vessel on their way to Tanzania is also unknown. The hijacking itself was dramatic. A British warship was in the vicinity, and according to some reports, just a few meters away from the kidnappers and their victims. But it did not intervene so as not to risk the married couple's lives.
The couple's health is said to have deteriorated markedly. They have periodically refused both food and water and a pirate spokesman has admitted that "they have serious health problems." The ransom demands stand at $7 million. But so far, the British government has categorically refused to hand over a single cent.