Those wacky Somali pirates are at it again. What's interesting to me is the similarities between Somalia today and the Caribbean in the early 18th century.
The final heyday of Caribbean piracy was around 1710-1730. The European powers had previously been fighting a lengthy, global struggle known as the War of the Spanish Succession. At the end of the war, the powers hastily discharged hundreds of sailors in their Western colonies, creating a glut of men who knew how to fight and sail, but not much else. At the same time, an incredible amount of cargo - including gold, slaves, rum, and sugar - was passing through the Caribbean isles. As many of these isles were essentially lawless, pirate outposts quickly sprang up and buccaneers began to prey on all the rich merchant ships.
In Somalia, there are large numbers of unemployed men who fought in the decade-long civil war. Somalia itself remains the prime example of a failed state, and the government's power barely extends beyond Mogadishu. And billions of dollars in international cargo pass within sight of Somalia's coastline thanks to its proximity to the Suez Canal.
The critical factor that ended the age of buccaneering was the rise of the British Royal Navy as an international police force. But the Royal Navy didn't destroy the pirates at sea; they captured and occupied the pirate bases, like Nassau in the Bahamas. In 2009, it seems very unlikely that any government, including the U.S., would be willing to occupy Somalia to end the new age of piracy.