Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Somali Pirate Standoffs Continues

The US Navy is in the vicinity, but no action appears to be forthcoming despite the fact that the pirates on board the drifting lifeboat are now demanding a ransom of $2 million. The Obama Administration's aloofness is even worse than President Carter's feckless response to the Iranian hostage situation. A search of the White House website for the word piracy reveals only three references, the most recent of which is from April 9. It's also telling that instead of treating the piracy as a military act, the Administration is sending the FBI. That is precisely the wrong message to send. It's the message of the weak and shows that the Administration is more than willing to continue tolerating piracy on the high seas. Hoping for the international community to respond and deal effectively with piracy is tantamount to letting it continue festering.

Further, what kind of message does this send to Americans who go overseas on travel or who work around the world? The US isn't going to be there for you either, even if you're the victim of piracy. You're on your own, just as the crew of the Maersk Alabama found. They didn't wait for the US Navy to respond, but took action on their own to overpower the pirates that boarded their ship.

Sadly, the pirates managed to take Captain Phillips hostage on a lifeboat, which is now drifting in the ocean and shadowed by the USS Bainbridge and other US Navy ships heading in that direction. The Navy is trying to stop the pirates from sending reinforcements.

Of course, anyone paying attention knows that the real issue isn't the pirates on the high seas, but the failed state of Somalia and the safe havens that give those pirates refuge. To effectively eliminate the pirates you're going to have to engage in operations on the land of Somalia. You can be sure that the Obama Administration isn't going to pursue a strategy that leads to a Clintonesque Black Hawk Down redux.

A complicating factor is that the Filipino government wants the safety of their people to take paramount concern over any military action. The overwhelming majority of those held captive by the pirates are Filipinos, but the numbers would have been far fewer had the shipping companies, insurance companies, and various navies decided on a zero-tolerance strategy that refused payment of ransoms and warned any pirates that their ships would be sunk on sight. That is how to stop the piracy off the coast of Somalia. You don't stop the piracy by continuing to provide ransoms and the economic incentive for desperate pirates to continue their terror campaign on the high seas.

The French are launching an investigation into why one of the hostages was killed in a three minute rescue operation that saved four other hostages from pirates. Sorry, but that's precisely how you get inaction on the high seas.
Defense Minister Herve Morin acknowledged that it could have been a French bullet that killed hostage Florent Lemacon, during an operation that demonstrated the risks of using military force against sea bandits.

Pirates seized a sailboat carrying Lemacon, his wife, 3-year-old son and two friends off the Somali coast a week ago. On Friday, French navy commandos stormed the boat in an assault triggered by threats the passengers would be executed.

Two pirates were killed, and Lemacon died in an exchange of fire as he tried to duck down the hatch.

"There will be of course a judicial inquiry, therefore there will be an autopsy. We cannot of course exclude that during the exchange of fire between the pirates and our commandos, the shot (that killed Lemacon) was French," Morin said on Europe-1 radio.

Still, he defended the action.

"We, I believe, made the best decision possible," he said.
There are going to be civilians killed in the anti-piracy operations, and all fault resides on the terrorists who seek out civilian shipping to plunder and hold their crews ransom.

Tack on another ship to the list of those hijacked.
Pirates seized a U.S.-owned and Italian-flagged tugboat with 16 crew on Saturday in the latest hijacking in the busy Gulf of Aden waterway, a regional maritime group said.

Andrew Mwangura, of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said the crew were believed to be unharmed on the tugboat, which he added was operated from the United Arab Emirates.

He said the tugboat was towing two barges at the time of capture but there were no details on their cargo.

"This incident shows the pirates are becoming more daring and violent," Mwangura told Reuters by phone.

NATO alliance officials on board the Portuguese warship NRB Corte-Real, which is patrolling the Gulf of Aden, said a distress call came from the MV Buccaneer tugboat but communications were lost six minutes later.
The AP (via MSNBC) reports that there are "experts" who see the pirates as businessmen, and that the ransoms are there to protect their hostages. It's that kind of logic that enables the pirates to operate with impunity despite hundreds of years of treating the pirates as the lawless thugs that they are and which international law traditionally viewed as subject to suppression and elimination.
The possible payout for Capt. Richard Phillips would be the pirates' top priority and could trump any desire for payback after his recent escape attempt, experts said. The 53-year-old Phillips jumped out of the boat Friday before being forced back in by automatic weapons fire.
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The pirates are businessmen, not suicidal jihadists, said Scott Stewart, vice president for tactical analysis for Stratfor, a global intelligence company based in Austin, Texas.

"These are people who are trying to make money," Stewart said. "They want to survive this. They don't want to die, which is a good thing in the captain's favor."
They don't want to die? Fine. Surrender and give up piracy. Piracy isn't good for your health, and the world must drive that point home. Allowing ransoms to be paid only enables and encourages further piracy. The payment of ransoms continues ratcheting up the costs to everyone, and the demands become ever greater with each passing incident.

Apparently there are plans to negotiate with the Somali tribal elders and pirates' relatives to avoid bloodshed.
With three U.S. warships in the area, the elders and relatives of the pirates holding Phillips, a father-of-two from rural Vermont, are planning a mediation mission to try to avoid bloodshed, a regional maritime group said.

"They are just looking to arrange safe passage for the pirates, no ransom," group coordinator Andrew Mwangura said.
None of this will deter future piracy, and will only strengthen the pirates going forward. There should be no safe passage, as it shows that the risks of piracy to the pirates themselves have been eliminated. Such action would only encourage further piracy.

Don Surber links. Thanks!

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