Saturday, April 11, 2009

Shiver Me Timbers!!!

America must respond swiftly and severely to the increasing piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa. Pirates should be treated as terrorists, not criminals. Accordingly, there should not be any negotiations with pirates for ransom. Paying multi-million dollar ransoms to these Somali pirates only encourages more destitute men to turn to piracy. It rebalances the risk/reward trade-off in favor of increased piracy.

Naturally, the increase in piracy can, at least partially, be explained by the fact that Somalia (where the vast majority of these pirates are coming from) is a failed state. Men have little recourse to survive other than to turn to piracy. Negotiations and ransoms legitimate piracy as an acceptable, albeit it illegal and frowned upon, method of making money. If one is going to pay someone after they do something, they’ll continue doing it if it is profitable.

Instead, anti-piracy policies have to be strong and unforgiving. Pirate recruits have to view this lawless occupation as unrewarding, dangerous, and unprofitable. This not only entails cutting off all payments of rewards and ransoms, but assuring brigands that the penalty for piracy will be severe. Pirates holding seized items and hostages should be targeted and killed until the situation can be controlled. Commando missions should be used to rescue hostages and seize control of hijacked ships. Surviving pirates, and their on-sea and on-shore supporters and compatriots, should be charged to the full extent of the law. These harsh penalties and lack of reward will go far to dissuade these men from becoming pirates.

Furthermore, America, and the world, should couple these policies with further preventative measures. This includes doing their best to prevent weapon flows to rogue and failed states, directly stationing armed fleets to protect merchant vessels, and assisting failed, failing, and destitute states with finding meaningful employment for their populations.

Some of this is certainly easier said than done, but it is imperative that we think about long term solutions to these problems. Payments of ransom and ignoring the underlying impetuses to piracy will only worsen the problem. It is unfortunate for the brave seaman and captains that do not get negotiated for and get caught in the crossfire. Of course, policies and commando operations should be structured to avoid the loss of innocent life. However, it is far worse to pay a multi-million dollar ransom for one captain, only to have it encourage pirates to take four more captains hostage. Negotiations with and payments to anyone who tries to strong-arm money out of peaceful merchants should be completely off-limits. It is essential to enact these policies quickly and strongly, in order to nip this growing piracy problem in the bud. If not we can only expect global piracy to increase.


  1. What do you think about arming merchant vessels?

  2. That's a very good question and to be honest I'm not totally sure how I feel. These hijackings, as heinous as they've been, have thus far been solely focused on monetary gain and not on killing hostages. Arming merchant vessels can potentially raise the risk of deadly force being used. Escalation in violence could lead to unnecessary loss of life. If pirates feel threatened they may be more likely to seize these ships and execute and/or kill sailors in the process.

    However, armed resistance may serve as a successful deterrent. If the relative costs of piracy increases, these young men may be more reluctant to take the risk. In this light, arming the ships will reduce the piracy.

    I'm not too sure which of these effects is greater. Whichever is I think should dictate whether we have a systematic arming of these merchant vessels. That being said I think every crew has the right to decide amongst themselves if they feel the need to carry arms on a case-by-case basis.

    I also think, that if arms are used the merchant vessels are better off using longer ranged weapons. While employing a sniper on every ship is probably not feasible, it would be more appropriate and safer to engage the pirates before they have reached the ship rather than in close quarters. What are your thoughts?


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