Last year, when pirates seized a South Korean oil tanker off the east coast of Africa, Seoul ended up paying a $9 million ransom to get it back after nine months.  The decision to reward extortion generated a great deal of criticism of South Korea, which must have had some impact on their decision to fight back this time when pirates seized the Samho Jewelry, a Norwegian-owned ship run by South Koreans on its way to Sri Lanka.  They sent special forces to seize the ship, and killed eight pirates in the process:

South Korean naval special forces stormed a hijacked ship early Friday and rescued 21 sailors and killed a number of pirates in the Arabian Sea.

Five suspected kidnappers were captured.

President Lee Myung-bak went live on national television to announce the successful conclusion of the five-hour operation, 1,300 kilometers northeast of Somalia.

Mr. Lee told the country South Korea will not tolerate future attacks on any of its nationals.

In a sense, Seoul ended up financing the operation it had to fight, thanks to its decision to pay off the pirates last year.  That is why most government impose a non-negotiation policy on piracy — to cut off the operating funds pirates use to launch more attacks.  The actions of South Korea in this case not only reduces the number of pirates on the seas, but also starves them of funds to launch further attacks on shipping in the area.

That doesn’t mean piracy will disappear.  Somalia’s status as a failed state guarantees a high level of crime, not to mention provides terrorist networks with just as many opportunities for organization and operation as it does pirates.  Until Somalia manages to put down the warlords and create an effective government with the ability to police itself, as well as protect and nurture an economy that brings hope and choice to its people, terrorists and pirates will continue to attract the desperate into growing networks.

The only realistic method of suppressing the growth of these networks in the near term is to starve them of funding.  South Korea made the right decision in this case, and thankfully the operation succeeded in saving the hostages and freeing the ship.