Dealing with Pirates

BY Herschel Smith
6 years ago

There have been so many accounts and reports of piracy in the last several weeks that tracking them, linking them and providing commentary has simply been impossible. In an interesting piece at the Wall Street Journal entitled Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?, Bret Stephens give us a synopsis of exactly where the world stands with respect to pirates.

Year-to-date, Somalia-based pirates have attacked more than 90 ships, seized more than 35, and currently hold 17. Some 280 crew members are being held hostage, and two have been killed. Billions of dollars worth of cargo have been seized; millions have been paid in ransom. A multinational naval force has attempted to secure a corridor in the Gulf of Aden, through which 12% of the total volume of seaborne oil passes, and U.S., British and Indian naval ships have engaged the pirates by force. Yet the number of attacks keeps rising.

Why? The view of senior U.S. military officials seems to be, in effect, that there is no controlling legal authority. Title 18, Chapter 81 of the United States Code establishes a sentence of life in prison for foreigners captured in the act of piracy. But, crucially, the law is only enforceable against pirates who attack U.S.-flagged vessels, of which today there are few.

What about international law? Article 110 of the U.N.’s Law of the Sea Convention — ratified by most nations, but not by the U.S. — enjoins naval ships from simply firing on suspected pirates. Instead, they are required first to send over a boarding party to inquire of the pirates whether they are, in fact, pirates …

Then there is the problem of what to do with captured pirates. No international body similar to the old Admiralty Courts is currently empowered to try pirates and imprison them. The British foreign office recently produced a legal opinion warning Royal Navy ships not to take pirates captive, lest they seek asylum in the U.K. or otherwise face repatriation in jurisdictions where they might be dealt with harshly, in violation of the British Human Rights Act.

In March 2006, the U.S. Navy took 11 pirates prisoner, six of whom were injured. Not wanting to set a precedent for trying pirates in U.S. courts, the State Department turned to Kenya to do the job. The injured spent weeks aboard the USS Nassau, enjoying First World medical care.

All this legal exquisiteness stands in contrast to what was once a more robust attitude. Pirates, said Cicero, were hostis humani generis — enemies of the human race — to be dealt with accordingly by their captors. Tellingly, Cicero’s notion of piracy vanished in the Middle Ages; its recovery traces the recovery of the West itself.

By the 18th century, pirates knew exactly where they stood in relation to the law. A legal dictionary of the day spelled it out: “A piracy attempted on the Ocean, if the Pirates are overcome, the Takers may immediately inflict a Punishment by hanging them up at the Main-yard End; though this is understood where no legal judgment may be obtained.”

This account of the legal head-scratching, hand-wringing and worrying over law of the sea rules closely parallels the ridiculous suggestions we have seen (that are also not worth linking), like the Naval officer who suggested that we actually spend time and resources to deploy small units of U.S. Marines aboard merchant ships to counterattack in the case of piracy.

This is really not so difficult, and the complications are mostly introduced by the lawyers, as is usually the case. Our prior recommendations for dealing with pirates closely follow the 18th century provisions and stipulations.

The Captain’s Journal has weighed in saying:

This is easy. We tell the LOAC and ROE lawyers that they’re special and that they should go to their rooms and write high-sounding platitudes about compassion in war so that they’re out of the way, we land the Marines on the ship, and we kill every last pirate. Then we hunt down his domiciles in Somali and destroy them, and then we find his financiers and buyers and kill them. Regardless of the unfortunate potential loss of Ukrainian or Russian civilian life upon assaulting the ship, this weaponry and ordnance should never have been shipped in this part of the world without escort (and perhaps it shouldn’t have been shipped even with escort). Negotiations will only serve to confirm the pirates in their methods. It’s killing time. It’s time to turn the United States Marines loose.

Ralph Peters has weighed in saying:

Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren’t folk heroes or champions of the oppressed. They’re terrorists and violent criminals whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they’re not impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court. The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British brought an end to the profession’s “golden age:” Sink them or board them, kill them or hang them.

Lt. Col. P at OpFor has weighed in saying:

Kill all of the pirates.

Seriously. Why do we allow a handful of khat-addled assholes to dominate one of the world’s most important sea lanes? We, the western powers, have sufficient naval units in the area to take care of the problem in very quick order. What we lack is the will. We apply an idiotically high standard of judicial due process to a situation that doesn’t lend itself well to a judicial solution. Anyone who has dealt with Somalis can tell you that they laugh at western legalisms, and what they perceive as western weaknesses. And then they redouble their violent efforts to take what they want from you. They do react very well to a boot on their necks, and a gun to their heads. Then they tend to wise up quickly.

Here’s how it needs to be done. Oil tanker sends distress call, takes evasive actions insofar as it is capable. (Or better yet, armed men aboard oil tanker defend by fire.) Coalition forces despatch (sic) vessels and boarding parties. Pirates who survive ensuing gun battle are lined up by the rail and shot in the head, then dumped overboard. Pirate boats are burned. If their bases or villages on the coast can be identified, said bases are raided and destroyed. No fuss no muss, no ransom, no hostages, no skyrocketing costs.

The inability to deal with pirates properly is a 21st century phenomenon, entirely a function of legal problems, rules of engagement, rules for the use of force, and the impossible desire to be infallible and utterly perfect and pristine in the application of force.

Additionally, while the pirates and globalist Islamists are currently enemies in Somalia because the pirates attacked a Saudi ship, The Captain’s Journal doesn’t care. We hate them both. Kill them all if they don’t kill each other first.

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  • jonesgp1996

    I continue to be baffled as to why the “West” (whoever that includes these days) cannot figure out an appropriate (i.e. swift & destructive) response to piracy. Clearly part of the problem is the security free-riders; that is, the international community expects the US, UK, and a handful of others to handle the problem while they freely reap the benefit of freedom-of-navigation. While few countries any more lack global power-projection navies, those that engage in or benefit most from the maritime traffic that passes through this dangerous region ought to put what naval assets they’ve got into securing the sea lines of communication.

    I also agree that the lawyers (to employ the term broadly) are part of the problem here. Who cares what the pirates’ grievances are? I certainly don’t. The bottom line is that they are a menace to navigation and should be treated as “enemies of all mankind.” Unfortunately, political hand-wringing in many Western countries on how to deal with this problem in a humane and civilized manner only serves to embolden these renegades.

    To that end, I agree with the Captain (and the other authors that he cites) that summary justice should be inflicted on the pirates when a naval patrol encounters and/or captures them. However, I have to think that such an approach is only treating the symptoms and not the cause. While making examples of a few of these guys may discourage some of them, there has got to be a higher entity directing, financing, etc., these guys, and some effort should be made to figure out who that is and to ultimately put the pinch on them, as well.


You are currently reading "Dealing with Pirates", entry #1603 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Piracy and was published November 26th, 2008 by Herschel Smith.

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