Archive for the 'Piracy' Category



Dealing with Pirates

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months 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.

Adventures in ROE: Waiting on the Lawyers

BY Herschel Smith
6 years ago

In Prosecution of U.S. Troops Under Iraq SOFA we broadly outlined some problems we have with the draft Status of Forces Agreement awaiting Iraqi parliament approval.  Review of the draft SOFA raises even more questions and forces the conclusion that things could very well be worse than first suspected.  A few examples are in order, followed by a review of international lawyer hand-wringing over Somalian pirates.

Article 3 [1] sets the context for review of the agreement: “All members of the U.S. armed forces and civilian members must follow Iraqi laws, customs, traditions, and agreements while conducting military operations in accordance to this agreement. They must also avoid any activities that do not agree with the text and spirit of this agreement. It is the responsibility of the U.S. to take all necessary measures to ensure this.”

Moving ahead in the document, Article 12 [9] says “The U.S. authorities submit, in accordance to paragraphs 1 and 2 of this article, a declaration explaining whether the alleged crime occurred while suspects where off duty or on duty. In case the Iraqi authorities think the conditions require such a decision to be reviewed or changed, the two sides discuss that through the joint committee, and the U.S. authorities takes into consideration all the conditions, events and any (sic) other information
submitted by the Iraqi authorities that might have an effect on changing the U.S. authorities (sic) decision.”

It should be fairly straight forward, shouldn’t it, to ascertain whether a Soldier or Marine is actively performing approved operations?  But the Kabuki dance is being done for the reason that by intent it isn’t really that simple.  There are the standing rules of engagement, theater-specific rules of engagement, and then unit-specific rules laid out by unit lawyers.  It’s this last category where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.

The Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT) IV, Operation Iraqi Freedom 05-07, Final Report, 17 November 2006, Office of the Surgeon, Multi-National Force Iraq, and Office of the Surgeon General, United States Army Medical Command, outlines examples of problems that have come up on the level of application of the ROE:

More than one third of all Soldiers and Marines continue to report being in threatening situations where they were unable to respond due to Rules of Engagement (ROE).  In interviews, Soldiers reported that Iraqis would throw gasoline-filled bottles (i.e., Molotov Cocktails) at their vehicles, yet they were prohibited from responding with force for nearly a month until the ROE were changed.  Soldiers also reported they are still not allowed to respond with force when Iraqis drop large chunks of concrete blocks from second story buildings or overpasses on them when they drive by.  Every groups of Soldiers and Marines interviewed reported that they felt the existing ROE tied their hands, preventing them from doing what needed to be done to win the war (pages 13 – 14).

The lawyers know that the real power of the ROE lies in how they are applied.  If, for example, a unit has completed operations and is headed back to the FOB, and a vehicle takes chunks of concrete through the windshield killing the driver, when the son of a high profile Parliamentarian dies in the subsequent small arms fire because the unit feels under threat, the time will have come to invoke the clause where Iraqi authorities attempt to change the U.S. decision on who has authority over the actions of that unit.  Soldiers and Marines have seen stranger things, and that, at the hands of their own lawyers.  In fact, one of the most poweful and effective tactics that has been used by U.S. forces – patrols, entering houses, the “knock and talk” – is patently prohibited in Article 22 [5], and agreed to by U.S. lawyers.

U.S. forces are not permitted to search houses and other properties without a court
warrant, unless there was an active combat operation in accordance to article four, and in
coordinating with the specialized Iraqi authorities.

Turning to the Gulf of Aden, the U.S. Navy is absolutely hand-tied and impotent because lawyers across the globe can’t agree to how to treat pirates (h/t War News Updates).

The commander of a NATO task force on its way to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia has said he still does not know what the rules are for taking on the high-seas bandits.

U.S. Admiral Mark Fitzgerald said while he was aware of where the pirates were operating, there was little he could do militarily to stop them and that guidelines on how to take them on — including whether to shoot — were still in the works.

“You know, I don’t think we’ve gotten the rules of engagement yet from NATO,” Fitzgerald told reporters on Monday during a briefing on U.S. naval operations in Europe and Africa.

“That’s all still being debated in the North Atlantic Council. All we’ve been told is to prepare a plan to go down there. So (the rules) are going to have to be debated.”

Six NATO members have contributed ships, including destroyers and frigates, to a special anti-piracy task force following a request from the United Nations.

The NATO group passed through the Suez Canal last week on its way to the Horn of Africa, where piracy has surged this year, with more than 30 ships seized and ransoms estimated at $18-$30 million have been paid to free hostages.

There are already naval assets from Britain, the United States and Russia in the region, but the area is so vast — more than 2.5 million square miles — that it is almost impossible for the pirates to be stopped unless they are caught red-handed.

“From a military standpoint, we certainly are limited by what we can do,” said Fitzgerald. “How do you prove a guy’s a pirate before he actually attacks a ship?

“We have a problem from the military side at sea because we can’t be omnipresent in the space, and the pirates operate at an advantage because … they don’t announce they’re a pirate until they attack a ship.”

Security specialists say there is a window of only about 15 minutes for a navy ship to respond to a distress call and get to another ship that’s being hijacked. Once pirates are on board, there’s little, legally, that can be done.

“You’ve got a very short window, a short time span, from the point where they decide to board a ship and (actually) board it. If you’re not right there, there’s not much you can do, and once the ship is taken hostage, then….”

The Danish navy learnt to its cost last month what can happen if you do seize suspected pirates.

They captured 10 people, but after holding them for six days aboard a Danish ship, the suspects were set free and put ashore in Somalia because the legal conditions surrounding their detention were unclear.

Denmark’s Defence Ministry said Danish law did not allow for prosecution of the men before a Danish court. The ministry said it had explored the possibility of handing them over to other countries but that was also not feasible.

A senior British naval commander admitted last week that it was essentially a legal minefield trying to take on the pirates, and urged commercial ships operating in the region to hire their own private security companies to deal with the threat.

Admiral Fitzgerald said the Danish experience showed how weak the impetus was going to be to capture pirates. Instead he said his task force would focus on escorting World Food Programme ships trying to deliver aid to Somalia.

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.

Apparently, the lawyers don’t think like we do.  But for the time being, the lawyers are setting the agenda.

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 1 month ago

Somali pirates in small boats can be seen alongside the hijacked MV Faina. The captain of the hijacked ship off the coast of Somalia said one crew member had died (U.S. Navy/AP Photo).

The U.S. Navy and Marines have surrounded some very important cargo in the Gulf of Aden near the Somalian coast.

U.S. warships have surrounded the MV Faina, a Belize-registered ship that was hijacked by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia last week.

While there’s no gold or precious jewels onboard, this buccaneer’s booty has the international community racing to intercept the boat before its cargo can be offloaded.

The Ukrainian-owned ship is carrying 33 Russian-made T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft guns, multiple-launch rocket systems and thousands of rounds of tank ammunition. Initial reports indicated the Ukrainian arms were destined for Kenya. But U.S. officials now say it appears they were to be shipped to Sudan, although it is unclear if they are headed to the central government in Khartoum or the government of Southern Sudan, which has purchased such tanks in the past.

The U.S. Navy has dispatched several destroyers and cruisers, as well as an amphibious ship with a complement of helicopters and Marines aboard, to ensure the hijacked arms don’t fall into the hands of terrorists in the power vacuum of the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where al Qaeda-linked groups operate.

“We are not going to allow the offload of the ship’s cargo,” warned Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which has sent ships to the scene.

The U.S. ships are stationed in a 10-mile radius around the hijacked vessel to prevent it from escaping.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety of the crew as well as the cargo onboard MV Faina,” Christensen said, adding that the U.S. presence “represents the U.S. resolve to ensure safety and security in the region. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore and requires an international solution to this international problem.”

A senior U.S. defense official says the American ships’ main mission is to prevent the pirates aboard the freighter from being resupplied from shore. The MV Faina is anchored off the Somali port of Hoybyo, along with two other freighters that had been hijacked by pirates previously.

Also of immediate concern is the well-being of the ship’s crew of Ukrainians, Latvians and Russians, totaling 21. A Russian crewman is reported to have died from hypertension. A Russian naval ship is also on its way to the scene from the Baltic and is estimated to arrive off Somalia in a week, at the earliest.

The U.S. Navy says it has had no coordination with the Russians on the matter.

“The Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood told reporters today, declining to comment further.

The modern-day swashbucklers were armed with automatic weapons when they boarded the ship Thursday. They are demanding a $20 million ransom for return of the cargo, down from an initial demand of $35 million.

The region off the coast of Somalia is well-known for pirate activity where cargo ships are regularly hijacked for ransom. Indeed, the number of vessels hijacked this year, and the ransoms demanded for their safe return, have risen dramatically.

Robert Kaplan gives us a little more on the pirates and their methods.

I spoke recently with several U.S. Navy officers who had been involved in anti-piracy operations off Somalia, and who had interviewed captured pirates. The officers told me that Somali pirate confederations consist of cells of ten men, with each cell distributed among three skiffs. The skiffs are usually old, ratty, and roach-infested, and made of unpainted, decaying wood or fiberglass. A typical pirate cell goes into the open ocean for three weeks at a time, navigating by the stars. The pirates come equipped with drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, short ladders, knives, AK-47 assault rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades. They bring millet and qat (the local narcotic of choice), and they use lines and nets to catch fish, which they eat raw. One captured pirate skiff held a hunk of shark meat so tough it had teeth marks all over it. With no shade and only a limited amount of water, their existence on the high seas is painfully rugged.

The classic tactic of Somali pirates is to take over a slightly larger dhow, often a fishing boat manned by Indians, Taiwanese, or South Koreans, and then live on it, with the skiff attached. Once in possession of a dhow, they can seize an even bigger ship. As they leapfrog to yet bigger ships, they let the smaller ships go free. Because the sea is vast, only when a large ship issues a distress call do foreign navies even know where to look for pirates. If Somali pirates hunted only small boats, no warship in the international coalition would know about the piracy.

Off-hand cruelty is the pirates’ signature behavior. In one instance, they had beaten, bullied, and semi-starved an Indian merchant crew for a week, and thrown overboard a live monkey that the crew was transporting to Dubai. “Forget the Johnny Depp charm,” one Navy officer told me. “Theirs is a savage brutality not born of malice or evil, like a lion killing an antelope. There is almost a natural innocence about what they do.”

The Captain’s Journal has no idea what this Navy officer is talking about. He needs to go back and re-evaluate his own morality and ethics, if he has any. Piracy, theft and cruelty are most certainly born out of evil, and the pirates themselves are reprehensible along with their actions. Right and wrong, good and bad, righteousness and evil, are not merely conventions.  They are universal and invariant.  There is nothing romantic about this.

This isn’t about learning a language to communicate with a population, or identifying an indigenous insurgency, or befriending a tribal sheikh, or employing gated communities, or any of the complicated counterinsurgency tactics we’ve had to employ in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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.


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