Two major cruise lines – Fred Olsen and MSC Cruises – have announced that they are dropping their Indian Ocean routes to avoid Somali pirates. From now on, their ships will go round the Horn of Africa and up the west coast, instead of crossing the Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal. This will hurt the economies of stopping points like Dubai, Oman, Jeddah and Egypt, as they lose out on docking fees and cruise ship passengers are forced to divert their spending to West African ports (or, more likely given the absence of gleaming shopping malls on that coast, bypass the entire shore). It could be the cue for a more concerted response to piracy by Middle Eastern governments, which haven’t yet done much to tackle the piracy epidemic.
For the cruise liners, West Africa might appear a safer bet, but as I mentioned here a few months ago, going the other way round the continent is far from risk free. It may be that West African criminal networks, which are notorious for their protean nature, expand into piracy (piracy in the region has so far mostly been limited to attacks on oil tankers off Nigeria).
Antonio Mazzitelli of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime told me recently that West African criminal networks switch easily from one activity to another: “Networks are built purely for carrying out a specific business,” he said. “Someone might do one job and then move to a completely different job.” Law enforcement authorities, including those in the West, are not well adapted to such fluidity – “they are crime-specialised,” said Mazzitelli, “those who look at drugs don’t look at internet fraud, and the latter don’t look at stolen vehicles, for example.” The US navy has recently begun training Nigeria’s navy to fight off pirate attacks on oil tankers, but they may have to broaden their scope if West African criminals take a leaf out of their Somali brothers’ books and target cruise liners as well.