Somalian Piracy

BY Herschel Smith
15 years ago

Piracy: The Only Solution, was written following six months of following the issue of piracy in and near the Gulf of Aden.  The reaction to this article and other developments in piracy (and Somalia) are both instructive and interesting.  While not comprehensive, the following reactions give us a primer on how to see the situation going forward.

Glenn Reynolds linked Shannon Love who said that “as with terrorism, the return of piracy indicates the collapse of international law and the liberal order it establishes. It tells us how dysfunctional international law has become.”  Friend of The Captain’s Journal Raymond Pritchett, a good analyst, tireless blogger and manager of Information Dissemination (and who has been given props by, has been involved with in a tet-a-tet with TCJ for some while over the answer to piracy.  He is an all around good guy and nice enough to link our answer,  and not only in the comments section, but later in another article, points out that the Somalian problem is much larger than merely piracy.  It is a failed state, and Raymond seems to be pointing to a larger, more costly counterinsurgency and state building campaign.

Tigerhawk, who was nice enough to link our response to him, asks what Obama is going to do about the situation.  This is not dissimilar to the response by Jules Crittenden, but Jules gives us specific recommendations.

… sink the boats. Declare Somalia’s coast to be a no go for boats of any kind. Offshore or tied up at the dock. On trailers, on the beach. Send whatever airframes may be appropriate to the task … UAVs, helicopters, Warthogs, F-16s, whatever … and destroy every boat along the coast. Wait a day or two, repeat. Wait a week or two, repeat. Destroy any boat launch, repair, storage or harbor facilities as may exist while you’re at it. A few quick Marine shore parties, naval missile barrages and close-in naval raids may be helpful.

Some people who might consider all this violence abhorrent, who might protest that the pirates are simply victims of dysfunctional society themselves, might suggest we engage in less distasteful methods to restore government, law and a legitimate economy to Somalia. But Somalia has proven highly resistant to this, so interim measures are needed to contain the lawlessness onshore. Obama can propose a big Somalia bailout down the road if he wants.

Jules is clear, but his counsel is not as visceral as ours was.  Send in the Marines on LCACs, or CH-46s and CH-53s, fastrope onto the boats, shoot them with sniper fire, and kill all of the pirates.  The ones who survive the ensuing fire fight are to be lined up at the rail and shot in the head, bodies dumped overboard.  The whole event is to be taped and published to the world so that they will know how we deal with pirates.  It is the most humane way of dealing with piracy, because without this kind of action piracy will continue, hostages will be taken, money will be spent, and trade and Maritime operations will be interdicted.

But the issue with Jules’ and Tigerhawk’s articles is that they both point to the Obama administration and what their response is going to be.  True enough, the current administration has been weak on foreign policy, but as we have pointed out, the previous administration did little to address the issue either.  In fact, in our original post, we noted a conversation we had with a Marine who had just come back from the 26th MEU, and who had a pirate in the sights of his Sasser .50 Caliber sniper rifle on board a CH-53.

“Did you take the shot,” I asked him?  “No,” he answered.  “RoE.  Who wants to have lawyers put him in jail when he gets back to the States?”

As stated above, Information Dissemination and Tigerhawk linked this response, but no other blogs or Main Stream Media reports.  How does this happen?  How does original reporting come from a recently deployed Marine and get ignored, while extraneous political observations get published, republished and circulated ad infinitum?  It isn’t an issue of blog traffic.  It’s an issue of influencing policy.

Continuing, there might now be a justification for wondering how firmly the current administration will deal with the situation.

An attack against al-Shabab camps in southern Somalia would mark the administration’s first military strike outside the Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan war zones. The White House discussions highlight the challenges facing the Obama team as it attempts to distance itself from the Bush administration, which conducted at least five military strikes in Somalia. The new administration is still defining its rationale for undertaking sensitive operations in countries where the United States is not at war.

Meanwhile, the FBI has decided that the original ship is a crime scene.  Also, the French have “stormed a yacht held by pirates elsewhere in the lawless stretch of the Indian Ocean in an assault that killed one hostage but freed four. Two of the pirates were killed and three captured.”

“Crime scene.”  “Failure in international law.”  Not only is the reversion to national and international courts, treaties and agreements dangerous, it’s more than a little bit creepy.  Someone in the Hague, or Spain, or Italy, or Washington, is going to decide what to do with Somalian pirates when Somali is an utterly failed state, the pirates don’t fear the Kenyan courts or the Americans?  Or worse, they will decide what to do with Americans who decide what to do about piracy.  The French, oddly, are stronger than the U.S. has been, but will be sorry for the expense, time and trouble for having captured their pirates rather than killing them.

Raymond at Information Dissemination also links Mattew Yglasias who wants the U.S. to ensure stability in Somalia as an antidote to piracy.  Strange.  Yglasias, who has been no friend of the counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq, now wants us to engage Somalia in one while we are at the same time engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This is juvenile and politically crass and self-serving, and Raymond is far too smart to listen to Yglasias and his boy-followers.

In the end, it is infeasible to launch another full blown counterinsurgency campaign in Somalia or anywhere else with two campaigns ongoing at the present moment.  The piracy problem is not now and has never been an issue of failed states or dysfunctional international law.  It’s an issue of force and fear.

While it is both sad and brave that the Captain of the Maersk Alabama is currently captive to the pirates, the U.S. must not and cannot negotiate with them.  The real failure is that by the time it gets to this point there are no easy or clinical solutions to piracy.  The failure has already occurred.

The solution is to engage them in a fire fight, line the surviving pirates up at the rail, shoot them in the head, videotape it, release it to the world, and inform the world that this is the way we deal with pirates.  Then the problem will be solved.  Or did we already say that six months ago?

Finally, Desert Sailor over at Information Dissemination comments:

As you know, I’m kinda a simple guy, so simple solutions always seem best to me, must be the connection to the War of 1812 that flows in my DNA.

Hersh has it.

Kill em.

Send in DEVGRU, secure the good Captain, get the Maersk Alabama to her destination. Blue NSW has some little friends called MkVs, open season for them, park a ‘phib out yonder for support. Meanwhile, est a Predator overwatch from HOA duty, let DEVGRU continue un-hindered. Bring 1 ESG in for MEU effect and then task every outbound CSG to “unload” their magazines along that stretch of pirate infested shore.

Always better to unload ammo through the barrel than offload at the pier.

Be “joint” – allow the USAF the opportunity to offload their BUFFs and BONES prior to RTB Diego.

This ain’t hard. Breakin Shi’ite and killing folks that killin’ has been our mission set for 233 yrs.

Politics and UN based ROE will stymie any effort towards simplicity. Sad.

Ah.  Someone else gets it.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On April 12, 2009 at 7:58 pm, mtpollack said:

    The solution is to engage them in a fire fight, line the surviving pirates up at the rail, shoot them in the head, videotape it, release it to the world, and inform the world that this is the way we deal with pirates. Then the problem will be solved.

    No quarrel from me, though I doubt the comfortable citizens of the West have the stomach for it.

    Only what works, works. Anything else, however well-intentioned, is useless, or worse.

  2. On April 22, 2009 at 7:43 am, davod said:

    The suggestions from some, including the administration, that more international co-operation is needed to counter the piracy is misleading at best. The implication is that the the laws are not sufficient. The Dutch Navy’s refusal to detain the pirates it captured and NATO’s anemic response also feeds into this meme.

    The laws, US domestic and international, are in place to conduct anti-piracy operations, both in international waters, where by definition – piracy occurs (Piracy is a high seas crime. Anything within a country’s boundaries is considered robbery), and in Somali waters.

    I could continue to add my own comments but would prefer to link to and qoute from “Piracy, Policy, and Law”,by By Commander James Kraska, JAGC, U.S. Navy, and Captain Brian Wilson, JAGC, U.S. Navy in the December edition of Proceedings

    I would however finish my contribution by saying it is quite likely, considering the USN’s response to the 2006 piracy incident not involving US persons or even a US Flagged ship, changes in USN and the DOD leadership are responsible for the initial USN response to the latest incident.

    “…Less than a year later [2006], a dhow plying the ancient trade route between India and Africa was taken over in international waters by ten Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles. Fortunately for the 16 Indians on board, there was a U.S. warship nearby. When the USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81) encountered the besieged dhow, her immediate mission was clear: gain control of the vessel and detain the pirates.

    …Once the pirates were in custody, the way ahead became less clear as the destroyer’s commanding officer, and more broadly, the American government and the international community confronted the myriad diplomatic and legal challenges of piracy suppression in the 21st century. Who would investigate and prosecute the case? Where would the pirates be held, and by whom? What about the Indian crew members, all of them witnesses to the crime, and what would happen to their ship and cargo?

    The successful interdiction by the Churchill sparked a global effort to develop a modern playbook for confronting piracy. In the United States, the Bush administration began to develop a policy consistent with national maritime strategy, which culminated in a comprehensive piracy policy governing diplomatic and legal action and signed by President George W. Bush in 2007. This establishes a framework for warships that encounter or interrupt acts of maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as for agencies charged with facilitating the prosecution of perpetrators and the repatriation of victims and witnesses. But because much of the ocean’s surface is beyond state jurisdiction, effective piracy repression demands international action and coordination…

    Decisive U.S. Action
    The wide-ranging policy signed by President Bush—the broadest presidential articulation of U.S. policy toward international piracy since the time of the Barbary pirates—was developed through the National Security Council by Navy judge advocates in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and Strategic Plans and Policy, Joint Staff. It establishes seven goals, each an important component for addressing piracy…

    …Dramatic Action
    Perhaps most significant, the UN Security Council took historic action against maritime piracy this past summer. Resolution 1816, which was decided under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and therefore legally binding on all states, called on them to cooperate in counterpiracy actions off the coast of Somalia. The resolution authorizes operations inside Somalia’s territorial waters to deny that area as a safe haven for pirates who operate outside the 12-mile limit. It also provides for disposition and logistics of persons-under-control detained as a result of counterpiracy operations.

    The resolution encourages states to increase and coordinate their efforts to deter acts of piracy in conjunction with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a weak ruling authority inside the fractured state. It also calls on states, the IMO, and other international organizations to build a partnership to ensure regional coastal and maritime security, and is designed to bring together flag, port, and coastal states, and other states with jurisdiction under national and international law. They will cooperate in determining criminal jurisdiction for acts of piracy, in its investigation and prosecution, and in rendering disposition and logistics assistance to victims, witnesses, and persons detained…”

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You are currently reading "Somalian Piracy", entry #2660 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Piracy,Somalia and was published April 12th, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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