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The sharp spike in pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of East Africa over the last three years has renewed international interest in the suppression of maritime piracy. While international efforts to curb piracy in the region have met with some success, a permanent solution requires that local governments take primary responsibility for its suppression. Superficially, the situation in East Africa shares a number of characteristics with a spate of pirate attacks perpetrated roughly a decade ago on vessels traversing the Strait of Malacca. In each case, pirates and armed robbers took advantage of a narrow channel, heavily used in ocean-faring commerce. Although small-scale robberies remain a persistent problem in the South China Sea, attacks on ships traversing the Malacca Strait have diminished dramatically following the establishment of a coordination agreement between governments in the region. There are surely lessons to be learned from the largely successful attempts to control piracy in Southeast Asia, but the nature of the situation in East Africa cautions against simply duplicating the Southeast Asian approach. The scope of the problem in Somalia, combined with the relative weakness of regional governments, suggests that a successful regional cooperation agreement will require international legal and financial support.
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