Piracy Best Ended by Actions Ashore

The Easter Sunday rescue of cargo ship Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates is a tribute to his personal bravery and the skill and steel nerves of the U.S. Navy. Now the Obama Administration has an obligation to punish and deter these lawless raiders so they’ll never again risk taking a U.S.-flagged ship or an American crew.

The story of Captain Phillips and the Maersk Alabama is full of the kind of divine providence or good luck that can’t always be counted on. Not every merchant marine vessel will have a crew that fights back against armed raiders, or a captain willing to trade his own safety for that of his crew. It’s also fortunate the U.S. Navy arrived before the pirates could make it back to land, where they would have been much harder to track down.

We can be grateful that the pirates exposed themselves long enough for U.S. Special Forces to shoot and kill three of them and free Captain Phillips. Any such rescue carries risks, as we saw when a passenger was killed during the weekend French rescue of a pirated pleasure boat off Somalia. Patience was rewarded in the U.S. case, but also so was preparation and the willingness to act when Navy officials say Captain Phillips appeared to be in “imminent danger.”

White House and Navy officials say President Obama had issued a general authorization to use force in these circumstances, and that is to his credit. With all the world watching, the U.S. Navy couldn’t afford to be long stymied by sea-faring kidnappers. No doubt Mr. Obama would have been criticized in some quarters — though not by us — had Captain Phillips been killed once the order was given to shoot the pirates. But that is the kind of decision that has to be left with commanders on the spot. The pirates made themselves potential targets of deadly force under the law of the sea the second they took Captain Phillips hostage.

Seven suspected Somali pirates at the Mombasa Law courts, Kenya, ... 
Seven suspected Somali pirates at the Mombasa Law courts, Kenya, Thursday, April 9, 2009, where they denied charges of attempted to hijack a cargo ship within the deep seas of the Somali Coast waters while armed with dangerous weapons. The pirates were remanded at the Shimo la Tewa GK Prison and will be brought back to the court on June 29th and 30th for the hearing of their case.(AP Photo)

A fourth pirate was captured, and we hope the Justice Department tries him under U.S. laws rather than transfer him to Kenyan control. Better still if he’s transferred to Guantanamo and held as an “enemy combatant,” or whatever the Obama Administration prefers to call terrorists. Reuters quoted a pirate it called “Hussein” yesterday saying that “The French and Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now on.” This may be bluster, but the U.S. will reduce the chances of it happening if pirates know they risk death or spending their lives in a U.S. prison.

While praising the rescue, Mr. Obama added yesterday that “we must continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks, be prepared to interdict acts of piracy and ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.” But since the Navy can’t stop every hijacking, some kind of military action against pirates on land may be needed. The Somali gangs operate openly in the port city of Eyl and claim “shares” in ships held for ransom. The willingness of the Saudis and Europeans to pay ransom is one reason the pirates have become so brazen.

Somali pirates are turning the high seas into a state of anarchy not seen in a century or more. They’ll continue to terrorize innocents until what we call the “civilized world” demonstrates that they will suffer the same fate as the pirates who made the mistake of kidnapping Captain Phillips.

The Wall Street Journal:


From Steve Schippert
National Review Online

I caught just enough news earlier to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describe the pirates as just “criminals” and go on, as SecState’s generally do, about the need for an “international resolution.” Two observations on that, really quickly.

1. The root word of “resolution” is “resolve,” to mean either a solution or sheer determination. International “resolutions” fly out of the UN building at Turtle Bay with all the alacrity of a printing press in overdrive. Yet none of them contain a workable “solution” or have the necessary teeth to accommodate any “sheer determination.” Two of the most pressing crises the UN has been grappling with for years have been the Iranian nuclear program and the various threats and human rights violations emanating from a belligerent North Korean dictatorship. How are those working out?

2. The Secretary of State might prefer to refer to barbarous pirates off the Somali coast as “criminals,” but as I wrote last night it is more appropriate to consider them “maritime thugs — terrorists at sea.” And, as noted at The Tank on National Review Online earlier today, “the potential of al-Qaeda in (or entering) the mix must not be ignored.”

What’s more, the last UN “resolution” where resolve and solution were actually employed, the American President was the one widely derided as “criminal” for actually doing so.

Expect little “resolve” or “solution” from any UN “resolution,” though one would receive wide media fanfare and photo ops.

The “solution” will necessarily fall upon the “resolve” of the private shipping firms who must operate their vessels in the danger zone, taking action themselves in protecting their property and crew members. The US Navy can only do so much and is, as on display today, quite necessarily reactive in nature. This does not deter the maritime thugs — terrorists at sea. It presents a solvable obstacle.

That’s what my thoughts in Somali Piracy: A Solution are all about. The best way to prevent successful piracy and defeat the pirates is to harden and defend the mosquitoes’ targets, not sparsely occupy a space with sledgehammers.

There’s really no getting around the last point above, and no denying the two listed regarding UN “resolutions.” The solution requires will, not another cobbled and watered-down “resolution” from a feckless United Nations.

Cliff May emailed a note wondering if perhaps the reason we have not already pursued such a defense of our shipping vessels is because of “some ridiculous treaties we’ve signed in recent years prohibiting the use of lethal force in these situations.” I replied:

What a fantastic question.

My fantastic answer: Break them.

“It’s my country’s crew’s lives or the pirates? I choose us. Next question.”

I don’t know the answer to that yet. We’re both looking into it. But I wholeheartedly agree with Cliff that if some stupid treaty is the reason we are not protecting our civilian shipping vessels, folks really ought to know that.


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