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Top 5 blunders of Somali pirates

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Thibaut Claisse/ECPAD/French Navy/AP

(Read caption) Not a cargo ship: The French Navy ship "Somme" was attacked by Somali pirates on Tuesday.

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It's time to roll that sad trombone sound again. You know ... whomp whomp whomp waaaaah.

Lately, those once fearsome Somali pirates have been behaving more like Keystone Krooks than savvy organized criminals.

Yesterday, they bit off more than they could chew by attacking a French Navy ship off the coast of their lawless country.

They thought it was a cargo vessel.

D'oh!

"Once they realized they were facing a ship that was responding and was heading towards them, they stopped shooting and attempted to flee," said French military spokesman Christophe Prazuck. "The Somme [a command and supply ship] gave chase and intercepted one of the pirates' boats. All the weapons had apparently been tossed into the sea and the suspected pirates are now being held on board the Somme."

Sigh.

Apparently, that's what happens when you attack at night without hi-tech equipment. Despite some evidence of off-shore mother ships, sophisticated money and intelligence transfers, most Somali pirates are rag-tag groups of impoverished fishermen and other coastal dwellers who are in it for some quick cash. With dreams of ransom riches dancing in their heads, they grab their AK-47s, jump into small skiffs, and try to take on passing trading vessels. (Read the recent cover story of our weekly magazine for an inside look at how the business works.)

This is the third time this year that Somali pirates have attacked a Western military vessel by mistake, which brings us to our Top 5 list of Somali pirates blunders.

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5. Last night's attack on the French Navy vessel.

4. On May 4, the French Navy captured 11 pirates off the coast of Somalia as part of a European Union operation to protect shipping. The pirates reportedly mistook a French frigate for a commercial ship.

3. On March 30, pirates apparently mistook a German NATO supply ship, the FGS Spessart, for a merchant ship when they targeted it in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen. "Poor judgment by the pirates turned out to be a real opportunity for seven nations representing three task forces to work together and strike a momentous blow for maritime safety and security," said a NATO spokesman.

2. On Sept. 26, 2008, pirates seized the Faina, a Ukrainian vessel loaded with $30 million worth of grenade launchers, piles of ammunition, and battle tanks.

Jackpot! Well, sort of. After four months of negotiations, the owners paid $3.2 million in cash dropped by parachute.

But this particular pirate operation also resulted in global attention and a concerted military response. It's now much harder for the brigands to ply the region's waters with impunity.

"After the Faina was taken, two task forces — from Nato and the EU — have sailed for the Gulf of Aden along with an assortment of warships from other nations," reports the London-based Times newspaper. "It was the thought of heavy weaponry falling into the hands of the country’s Islamists — some with links to Al Qaeda — at one of the country’s arms bazaars that provoked an international military response."

1. On April 8, pirates seized the US-flagged 17,000-ton Maersk Alabama, which was carrying food aid from USAID and other agencies to help malnourished people in Uganda and Somalia. The pirates didn't last long. In a rescue worthy of a Hollywood script, US Navy SEAL snipers killed three pirates and freed the American sea captain who had offered himself as a hostage to save his crew.


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