Tim Black discusses what we know and don’t know about the Kenyan terror attack and why recent terrorist attacks seem less directed at the organs of the state and much more at society as a whole:
Some analysts have even gone so far as to pinpoint Kenyan troops’ take over of the port of Kismayo, a lucrative trading position for al-Shabab, as the catalyst for the Westgate attack. As one commentator put it: ‘[The Westgate attack] wasn’t a random act. On the contrary, it was a direct consequence of Kenya’s own policy decisions. To say that in no way justifies this heinous attack – it merely identifies cause and effect.’
Yet tit-for-tat accounts miss something. They appear too glib, too easy. They may not excuse a drawn-out atrocity like Westgate, but they do give it a nicely polished rationale.
But it’s a rationale at odds with what actually happened. Yes, the Kenyan military, under the auspices of the African Union, did play a role in weakening al-Shabab’s position in Somalia. And no doubt members of al-Shabab, already a declining, increasingly unpopular grouping in Somalia (even Osama Bin Laden disowned it because of is brutality), did feel anger towards the Kenyan army. But there is a massive, unexplained causal gap between that sense of grievance and the attack on a shopping centre in Nairobi. That’s right, a shopping centre. This wasn’t an attack on the Kenyan state. This wasn’t a gun battle with the Kenyan army, the principal object of al-Shabab ire. No, this was an indiscriminate attack on men, women and children at a shopping centre. The people targeted weren’t intent on a conflict with militant Islamists in Somalia; they were shopping for Old El Paso fajita mix.
What’s important to grasp here is that the new terrorism does not draw its militants from any specific struggle in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter. Rather, it draws upon a broad and deep disillusionment with modern society; it exploits the non-identity between society’s threadbare values and particular members. And it turns certain individuals upon society as a whole. Hence the new terrorism does not target the institutions of the state; it targets the institutions of civil society. In particular, it targets the embodiments of modern social life: a shopping centre in Nairobi, an office block in New York, a market in Baghdad.
In 1911, amid anarchist bomb plots, Vladamir Lenin wrote a scathing critique of what he called ‘individual terrorism’ — the act, for example, of assassinating a minister — on the grounds that it turned what could be a mass struggle into the act of a single individual. ‘In our eyes’, he wrote, ‘individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission’. Today’s individual terrorist is far more degenerate than his anarchist precursors. So far removed from the masses is he, so little concerned is he with any actual struggle for something in particular, that his terror is turned against the masses. The consequences have been barbaric.
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Strategy Page on the plight of a number of kidnapped ship crews in the hands of Somali pirates and the hard times those pirates are facing themselves:
Somalia is a sad place and one of the saddest tragedies ever is being played out where pirates in the north are holding 40 sailors and several ramshackle ships that no one will pay a ransom for. These are seagoing fishing boats and small freighters owned by small operators with no insurance to cover ransoms and not enough cash, or inclination, to pay what the pirates demand. The negotiators (who work for the pirates) have explained all this to the pirate chiefs, who are facing hard times themselves and stubbornly refuse to face the fact that they will never get anything for these 40 sailors and their ramshackle ships (one of which recently sank at anchor). Just killing the remaining prisoners (some held for three years) and sinking the ships risks retribution from the anti-piracy patrol off shore. Countries the prisoners are from have been pressured to pay ransom, but all of them adhere to the “no negotiating with terrorists” code. There is growing pressure on the pirates to simply release the unwanted prisoners on “humanitarian grounds” and at least get some good press out of this mess. That’s a bitter solution for the pirates, who have not captured a ship that could be ransomed in over a year. Several pirate gangs have disbanded and those still around have shrunk and cut the payroll considerably.
The big time piracy is largely out of business because warship patrols and better security aboard large ships passing Somalia has made it nearly impossible to seize these vessels. Holding ships for ransom only worked initially because Somalia, a state without a government since 1991, provided small ports on the coast of East Africa where pirates could bring the merchant ships they had captured, and keep them there, safe from rescue attempts, until a ransom could be negotiated.
Pirates usually function on the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren’t many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and “flailed” states (a flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to just barely keep things together, unlike a failed state such as Somalia, where there isn’t any government at all).
The solution to piracy is essentially on land, where you go into uncontrolled areas and institute some law and order and remove the pirate safe havens. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago. Trying to tackle piracy just on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy but can’t eliminate it. In the modern world the “land” solution often can’t be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.
A new industry has developed that attempts to “pirate proof” ships operating off Somalia. The most successful (and most expensive) technique is to put a small number of armed guards on each ship. That, and warship patrols, has greatly reduced piracy off East Africa (Somalia). But off West Africa (especially the Gulf of Guinea) the piracy threat is growing because pirates have found ways to get more valuables off ships before security forces (police, coast guard, or navy) can show up.
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Strategy Page counts the number of attacks by pirates in two hotspots around Africa:
Piracy attacks were down last year, returning to 2007 levels. The greatest reductions occurred off Somalia, where more effective anti-pirate patrols and escort operations made it very difficult for the pirates to even get close to merchant ships. When pirates did close in, the crews were better equipped and trained to get away. Many ships now carry some armed guards when off Somalia, who can shoot back (much more accurately) if the pirates get too close. No ship with armed guards has been taken.
Last year there were 75 pirate attacks on large ships off Somalia, compared to 237 in 2011. Last year pirates took 14 ships, compared to 28 in 2011. It’s been more than six months since pirates have taken a ship off Somalia and several large pirate gangs have simply gone out of business. Others have switched to smuggling people from Africa to Yemen. That business is booming.
There has been more piracy off the west coast of Africa, where there were 58 incidents last year. Most of this has been taking place in the Gulf of Guinea where the pirates have become bolder and are hijacking ships (which they mainly take only long enough to steal the cargo). This is not a new trend (it has long been common in Asia) but it is new for West Africa.
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Tim Harford gives a history lesson while answering the question of which is better:
Consider two different types of bandit, suggested Olson: the roving bandit, who wanders around pillaging wherever he can; and the stationary bandit, who builds a castle and settles down to exploit a particular area. At first glance, one might think that a stationary bandit is the greater curse, because he’s always around. But not so: roving bandits are more dangerous because they have no reason to hold back. A roving bandit will take everything and leave you dead. The stationary bandit wants to come back and take more next week, and so will ensure you have the resources to keep going about your business.
Because you have everything to fear from the roving bandit, you are likely to take your own steps to avoid him — to hide, to place locks and alarms on everything, or to hire a group of seven samurai to protect you. Meanwhile, anticipating your counter-measures, the roving bandit will also spend resources on his counter-counter-measures. The cost of such arms races can be vast.
[. . .]
Besley and his colleagues reckon that costs of between $900m and $3.6bn were incurred in 2010 as a result either of pirate attacks, or efforts to deter or evade such attacks. Meanwhile the pirates took home just $120m over the same period. Now that $120m does seem to have had some beneficial effects on the pirates’ home ports, according to Anja Shortland, an economist at Brunel University. But piracy is an expensive way to get $120m into the hands of anybody.
There are signs that Somali piracy is on the wane, at least for now. But Somalia remains the poster child for a failed state. And a good working definition of a failed state is one that lacks a decent, long-lived stationary bandit. After all, once a stationary bandit feels secure in his tenure (“long live the king!”) he may do more than show restraint in his plunder: he may begin to invest in the prosperity of the region he dominates, building bridges, establishing a police force and drawing up laws. To maintain his power base he will have to hand out favours and ensure that prosperity is reasonably widespread.
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The crew of the Iceberg 1 are now free, after enduring the longest pirate kidnapping in modern history:
How’s this for a seasonal tale to warm the hearts? After almost three years in captivity, the crew of the Iceberg 1, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, are home after finally being rescued.
For the benefit of those who haven’t followed the story — and there are probably plenty, as it’s had only scant coverage — the Iceberg 1 was captured back in March 2010, and has languished in pirate custody ever since.
As we reported back in the summer, the ship essentially fell between two stools. Its Dubai-based owner, who appears not to have been insured, refused to pay a ransom for it and simply went to ground, ignoring pleas for help from the hostages’ families.
Meanwhile, the governments representing the different sailors on board — six Indians, nine Yemenis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino — were either unable or unwilling to mount a rescue attempt. So, too,was the multinational anti-piracy force, which generally prefers hijacked ships to be freed by ransom, on the basis that freeing sailors by force carries too much risk of casualties.
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Strategy Page sums up the advice being provided to crews of merchant ships passing the Somali coast:
A decade of dealing with the Somali pirates has motivated merchant ships to adopt policies that make life very difficult for the pirates. To aid this process the NATO anti-piracy patrol emails advice to ships entering areas where pirates are active. The advice is based on experience with what works best to avoid getting captured by the pirates. If a vessel is captured, it costs the shipping companies (that own the vessel) millions of dollars, and it means the crew spends months (even a year or more) held captive on their own ship, often in squalid conditions. There is also the risk of injury, sickness or death, not to mention beatings and lack of medical care. So the crews have plenty of incentive to follow the advice.
The first item of advice is to keep a sharp lookout all the time. Radar will often reveal the larger mother ships, but the smaller speedboats carrying the pirate boarding party can only been seen by lookouts. If possible, supply these men with night-vision equipment. The pirates like to attack at night.
Stay away from unidentified ships, especially the small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships the pirates like to seize and use as mother ships. The pirates will not be able to deceive a determined identification attempt and the email advice gives plenty of tips on how to tell who is a pirate. If you identify a nearby ship as one seized by pirates, radio the anti-piracy patrol to check it out. Many mother ships are put out of action that way.
Avoid stopping at night, as this makes you a perfect target for pirate attack. When stopped at night use only the minimum number of navigation lights and otherwise keep the ship as dark as possible. If you must stop (usually outside a port) make sure the lookouts are alert and keep crew ready to quickly start the engines. Large ships can outrun and out maneuver pirates in their speed boats, but only if the larger ship is moving.
The anti-piracy patrol has also issued a list of things to look for when you see small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships and want to know if they have been taken over by pirates. The list describes the many telltale signs that these small ships have been turned into mother ships (and this reportable to the anti-piracy patrol).
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This is an unusual arrangement, but it makes sense in the larger picture:
The U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy conducted their first joint anti-piracy drill. A Chinese frigate (the 4,000 ton Type 54A Yiyang) and an American destroyer (the 8,200 ton Burke class Churchill) carried out several training operations over five hours. This included joint use of communications as well as boarding and onboard search procedures. This was done in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia.
While there was some PR angle to this, the crews of the two ships did get a useful look at how the other side operates. More to the point, it was a useful drill in the event that Chinese and American warships found themselves dealing with the same bunch of Somali pirates. Both sides will distribute what was learned throughout their respective fleets.
All this is part of a trend. China is becoming more inclined to work with ships from other nations patrolling the pirate infested waters off Somalia. Earlier this year, for example, China, India, and Japan agreed to have their warships off the Somali coast coordinate operations to more efficiently protect civilian ships in the area. Chinese and Indian warships have been operating independently off Somalia, while Japanese ships have been operating with Task Force 151. Most warships on anti-piracy duty belong to TF 151. Most of the remainder work with EUNFS (European Union Naval Force Somalia). But some nations continue to operate independently, more or less. In these cases there is always some communication, coordination, and sharing of information with TF 151 and EUNFS.
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We’re all aware of the piracy problems along the east coast of Africa, but the west coast is also experiencing a resurgence of pirates:
Piracy has been making a comeback in the last decade. This was initially because Somalia, a state without a government, provided small ports on the coast of East Africa where pirates could bring the merchant ships they had captured, and keep them there, safe from rescue attempts, until a ransom could be negotiated. Now, off West Africa, pirates have come up with another angle. These pirates, believed to be only one well-organized gang at the moment, target small oil tankers operating in the Gulf of Guinea (where Nigeria and its neighbors have oil fields). The pirates quickly board and seize control of a tanker at night. The crew is locked up in an internal space and the tracking devices are disabled. Then the tanker is taken to rendezvous with another tanker, which takes the oil from the hijacked tanker, along with the pirates and their other loot and makes for a port where oil brokers willing to buy stolen oil (at a steep discount) take the pirated cargo, pay the pirates and perhaps tip the pirates off on another small tanker that could be hit.
The hijacked tanker was stripped of portable items of value and then set adrift, where it would soon be found and the crew released. Normally, pirates attack merchant ships anchored near the coast grab all the valuable portables and take off. This is considered armed robbery, although some pirates will kidnap a few of the ships officers and hold them for ransom. But this requires a good hideout and more resources. The pirates who steal oil cargoes require even more technical organization and connections. But because the payoff is so high (millions of dollars for a stolen oil tanker cargo), a growing number of skilled gangsters are being attracted to the business.
All this is something of a piracy revival. Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and then policed it. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes.
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This is a list you never want your country (or your neighbours) to appear on: the “top ten” failed states.
For the fifth year in a row, Somalia is ranked as the most failed failed state on the planet. This ranking was made by The Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine. Over the last decade, it’s become popular for think tanks, risk management firms and intelligence agencies to compile lists of “failed states.” This is what unstable countries, prone to rebellion and civil disorder, are called these days. What they all have in common is a lack of “civil society” (rule of, and respect for, law), and lots of corruption. The two sort of go together. Somalia consistently comes in first on most of these failed state lists. This year the top ten list of failed states (from worst to less worse) was Somalia, Congo Democratic Republic, Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic.
Not surprisingly, the best example of a failed state has long been Somalia, and that’s largely because the concept of the “nation of Somalia” is a very recent development (the 1960s). It never caught on, which is a common feature of failed states. Same could be said for the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn’t in the same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government of sorts, on and off, for thousands of years. Not so Somalia.
Another common problem in failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past this tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. It usually takes the establishment of a functioning democracy to make that happen. This tribalism has kept most African nations from making a lot of economic or political progress. The top five failed states are all African. Somalia is also unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from tribal animosities and severe warlordism (basically successful gangsters who establish temporary control over an area).
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At the BBC News site, Martin Plaut reports on the latest attempt to quell piracy off the shores of Somalia:
Off the pirate-infested waters of Somalia, a new force is taking shape.
The private company Typhon is preparing to operate alongside the world’s navies, offering protection to cargo vessels sailing around the Horn of Africa.
But unlike other private security firms which put guards on board other people’s ships, it will offer vessels of its own.
The chief executive of Typhon, Anthony Sharpe, says the plan is to rendezvous with cargo ships which sign up for their protection and form them into a convoy.
The company says it will establish what it is describing as an exclusion zone of one kilometre around the ships.
The company is buying three boats, which are currently being fitted out in Singapore.
Each of its craft will have up to 40 security officers, drawn from former British Royal Marines, as well as a crew of 20.
The ships will be fitted with machine guns and the staff will have rifles.
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Strategy Page has an update on the anti-piracy efforts off the Somalian coastline:
After two years of immense prosperity, the last year has been a disaster for the Somali pirates. For example, in the last eight months, only six ships have been captured, compared to 36 ships in the same eight month period a year ago. Pirate income is down 80 percent and expenses are up. Pirates have to spend more time at sea looking for a potential target, and when they find one, they either fail in their boarding efforts (because of armed guards, or better defense and more alert crews) or find anti-piracy patrol warships and armed helicopters showing up. Unlike in the past, the patrol now takes away the pirates weapons and equipment, sinks their mother ships and dumps the pirates back on a beach. The pirates claim that some members of the anti-piracy patrol simply kill pirates they encounter on the high seas (some nations have admitted doing this, at least once, in the past). But no one does this as official policy, and the rules are still basically “catch and release.” The big change is that the patrol has become much better at detecting pirates, on captured fishing ships, and shutting these pirates down. Often the pirates bring along the crew of the fishing ships, to help with the deception. But the patrol knows which fishing ships have “disappeared” and quickly identify those missing ships they encounter, and usually find pirates in charge. The anti-piracy patrol also has maritime reconnaissance aircraft that seek to spot mother ships as they leave pirate bases on the north Somali coast, and direct a warship to intercept and shut down those pirates. The pirates have been losing a lot of equipment, and time, and money needed to pay for it.
[. . .]
Pirates have responded by finding new targets (ships anchored off ports waiting for a berth) and using new tactics (using half a dozen or more speedboats for an attack.) The pirates still have a powerful incentive to take ships. In 2010, for example, pirates got paid over $200 million in ransom. The year before that it was $150 million. Most of that was taken by the pirate gang leaders, local warlords and the Persian Gulf negotiators who deal with the shipping companies. But for the pirates who took the ship, then helped guard it for months until the money was paid, the take was still huge. Pirates who actually boarded the ship tend to receive at least $150,000 each, which is ten times what the average Somali man makes over his entire lifetime. Even the lowest ranking member of the pirate gang gets a few thousand dollars per ransom. The general rule is that half the ransom goes to the financiers, the gang leaders and ransom negotiators. About a quarter of the money goes to the crew that took the ship, with a bonus for whoever got on board first. The pirates who guard the ship and look after the crew gets ten percent, and about ten percent goes to local clans and warlords, as protection money (or bribes).
[. . .]
For the last four years, Somali pirates have been operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the African coast. The islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. While ships making the Gulf of Aden run know they must take measures to deal with pirate attacks (posting lookouts 24/7, training the crew to use fire hoses and other measures to repel boarders, hanging barbed wire on the railings and over the side to deter boarders), this is not so common for ships operating a thousand kilometers or more off the east coast of Africa. Ships in this area were warned last year that they were at risk. Now, the pirates are out in force, demonstrating that the risk is real.
Strategy Page explains why the pirates in Puntland are being targeted:
The EU (European Union) agreed, on March 23rd, to allow its anti-piracy force off Somalia (EUNAVFOR) to attack coastal targets and coordinate military operations with the Somali TNG (Transitional National Government). This means that EUNAVFOR ships and aircraft can attack pirate targets on land. Most of the pirate bases (coastal towns and villages) are in Puntland, a self-declared state in northern Somalia. While less violent and chaotic than southern Somalia, Puntland officials are bribed and intimidated (by the superior firepower of the pirate gangs) into inaction. Technically, Puntland is opposed to the pirates, so the EU is hoping that Puntland won’t make a stink when EU forces begin shooting at pirates on the coast.
The EU plan apparently involves going after pirate logistics and fuel supplies in their coastal havens. This could be tricky, as the pirates are well aware of how the Western media works and could easily put many of these targets in residential neighborhoods. The EU could respond by blockading the pirate bases, and attacking pirate attempts to truck in fuel and other supplies. Pirates could put civilians on trucks, or even captured sailors from ships held for ransom. There is no easy solution to the Somali pirates.
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Strategy Page on recent developments in the anti-piracy campaign off the Somali coast:
To get around laws, in many ports, forbidding weapons aboard merchant ships, security companies operating off the Somali coast have equipped small ships to serve as floating arsenals. The security guards boards, in port, the merchant ships they are guarding, then meet up with the gun ship in international waters so the guards can get their weapons and ammo. The process is reversed when the merchant ships approach their destinations or leave pirate infested waters (and put the armed guards off onto the gun ship.) Maritime lawyers fret that there are no proper laws to regulate these floating armories, or that if there are applicable laws, everyone is not following them. It’s also feared that some enterprising lawyers will seek to represent the families of pirates shot by these armed guards. Off the Somali coast, everyone is looking for a big payday.
In the last three years, more and more merchant ships, despite the high expense, have hired armed guards when travelling near the “Pirate Coast” of Somalia. It began when France put detachments of troops on tuna boats operating in the Indian Ocean, and Belgium then supplied detachments of soldiers for Belgium ships that must move near the Somali coast. These armed guards are not cheap, with detachments costing up to $200,000 a week. There are now over a dozen private security companies offering such services. What makes the armed guards so attractive is the fact that no ship carrying them has ever been captured by pirates. That may eventually change, but for the moment, the pirates avoid ships carrying armed guards and seek less well-defended prey.
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Far from solving the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean, the costs have increased dramatically:
The Somali piracy problem is not going away, despite years of efforts by an every-growing international anti-piracy patrol off the East African coast and the Indian Ocean. Since 2005, the average ship (and crew) ransom has increased over ten times (from $150,000). Thus overall cost of Somali piracy has increased to more than $5 billion a year. Most of the cost is from addition expenses for ships staying at sea longer as they avoid going anywhere near Somalia. This has cost Egypt over 20 percent of the traffic through the Suez canal, which amounts to over a billion dollars a year in lost revenue. The anti-piracy patrol costs nearly a billion dollars a year, but most of the extra costs hit the shipping companies, and their customers, who pay more for ships spending more time at sea, or the expense of additional security measures.
The problem is that piracy is a gamble, but a better gamble than anything else on offer for would-be pirates. A small vessel, a crew willing to fight, and some inexpensive weapons can be translated into a multi-million dollar jackpot. International navies on patrol rarely do more than scare off attempts, so the risk to the pirates is still low even when a patrol is in the area. Given the situation on land, it is logical for pirates to continue attacking ships passing the Somali coastline.
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Strategy Page reports on a new initiative to combat the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia:
A major British insurer (Jardine Lloyd Thompson) is organizing a private armed escort service for ships operating off Somalia. Called the Convoy Escort Programme (CEP), the 18 small patrol boats will offer armed escort through the Gulf of Aden, and reduce overall security and insurance costs for ships using the service. It’s all about money, as the insurance companies don’t like the spiraling ransom costs, and especially the unpredictability of the pirates. While the insurance companies can pass the costs onto those who buy their insurance, the pirates could rapidly increase the number of ships their steal, and force the insurance companies to incur losses, not to mention the risk of more ships foregoing insurance and using increased shipboard security and armed guards.
The CEP is not a done deal yet. A country has to sign on to allow the patrol boats to fly their flag (and thus provide a national legal system to operate under). The patrol boats will carry heavy machine-guns (12.7mm/.50 cal), armed crews (all former military) and small boats to check suspected pirates. CEP will coordinate with the anti-piracy patrol, and let the larger warships spend more time pursuing the pirates that are now operating much farther from the Somali coast.
This may not be the answer, but it shows that creativity isn’t dead in the insurance industry.
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