The Idiom

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ahoy! The Rundown on the Whole Pirate Thing...

First off, can someone tell The Kid what the FUCK Donald Payne was doing in Somalia? Christ, only in NJ.

Second, we'd like to give the Captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama a big Idiom thumbs up. Why? Because the most important, yet little noted, element of this entire drama has been that the Captain and crew did not sit idly by and leave themselves to the tender mercies of sea-borne thugs.

No, they ACTED. The crew of the Maersk Alabama repelled the initial attack with fire hoses. When the pirates returned a day later and successfully boarded the ship, the crew beat them back and actually captured one of them. Unfortunately, the Captain had been taken hostage and the pirates dragged hims back to a lifeboat and fled the scene. The crew tried to bargain for the Captain by exchanging the prisoner for him, but the pirates refused to release him after they got their man back. (Who would thought pirates would be so untrustworthy?)

But even though Captain Richard Phillips allowed himself to be taken to spare his crew, he did not passively succumb to his captors' will either. Once the USS Bainbridge showed up on the scene, Phillips threw himself overboard from the lifeboat in order to give the guys on the destroyer a chance to send the pirates to Davy Jones' Locker. TWICE.

Luckily by the second time, the go order had been given from DC, allowing navy SEALs to air out 3 of the 4 pirates.

What made this captain and crew different from the dozens of other ships raided in the past year? How are they differentiated from the 200 sailors still being held maritime scum?

It can be summed up in one sentence. They are Americans.

They acted in the truest American way. When faced with danger, they did not submissively abandon themselves to their fate. They stood up and decided to act. Perhaps they would be successful, perhaps they would be killed – but they would live or die as free men. As befits every American.

In this they are kindred spirits with those who stood up and acted on United 93. They too decided to live, and die, as free men.

So hats off to the Captain and crew of the Maersk Alabama. May your actions these past few days, against the first pirates to dare attack an American flagged vessel since Stephen Decatur cleaned the Bey of Algiers' clock 200 years ago, put all outlaws on notice that they approach Americans at their own peril.

Of course, like all tribal primitives, the pirates vow revenge.

"Every country will be treated the way it treats us. In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying," Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the Somali town of Gaan

Yeah, we're quaking Abdullahi...

"From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them (the hostages)," Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old pirate, told the Associated Press from one of Somalia's piracy hubs, Eyl. "(U.S. forces have) become our No. 1 enemy." [...]
You know, having the U.S. as your #1 enemy – is a real DANGEROUS situation to be in Habeb. It seems as if Eyl is overdue for a tourist visit from some special operators.

Which brings up, what to do about this situation? Because as Steyn notes, we can be expecting a lot more of this.

Once upon a time we killed and captured pirates. Today, it’s all more complicated. The attorney general, Eric Holder, has declined to say whether the kidnappers of the American captain will be “brought to justice” by the U.S. “I’m not sure exactly what would happen next,” declares the chief law-enforcement official of the world’s superpower. But some things we can say for certain. Obviously, if the United States Navy hanged some eyepatched peglegged blackguard from the yardarm or made him walk the plank, pious senators would rise to denounce an America that no longer lived up to its highest ideals, and the network talking-heads would argue that Plankgate was recruiting more and more young men to the pirates’ cause, and judges would rule that pirates were entitled to the protections of the U.S. constitution and that their peglegs had to be replaced by high-tech prosthetic limbs at taxpayer expense.

John Keegan counsels a merciless campaign by the naval powers of the world to exterminate the vermin.

The problem is that not even the U.S. Navy can handle this. Because the pirates are not after cargo, but rather they are a sea-borne kidnapping ring. Back in the day, pirate vessels were large Men O' War, which had to be resupplied in ports and could be hunted down and sunk. These days, pirates pilot small fishing boats and claim their quarry with AK-47's and RPG's. The sea is just too big, and there are too many small boats out there to effectively police the situation.

The other idea? Arm the boats themselves. Kid Various sees a burgeoning market for Blackwater types, as Arthur Herman notes.

Crews of cargo vessels that enter Somali waters need to be trained to fight back (reports are that the crew and captain of Maersk Alabama all had anti-terrorist and anti-piracy training). If they need to shoot, let 'em shoot. If we have to bring in lawyers to alter international treaties, let them be changed to protect our ships and crews, not those who attack them.

An even more sensible idea is security contractors rotating among ships in dangerous waters as suggested by Steve Schippert. Hop on in the upper part of the Red Sea, hop off in Kenya.

The specific logistics for maximum efficiency can be a challenge, but the basics here are pretty simple - at least on paper. There is no need for the contracted maritime security team to be aboard the vessel outside demonstrated high-risk zones. That, currently, is the float around the Horn of Africa. It is surely possible to coordinate embark and debark points at the ends of that leg of a particular ship's journey. This can happen at a port of call or, most efficiently, via scheduled smaller craft along the way.

The US military has a presence in Djibouti, which can serve as a safe staging point for security teams before the vessel steams toward the Suez Canal. At the opposite end, the United States may assist the contracting organizations in coordinating cooperation with Kenya and a similar use of shoreline military installations for the same staging area purposes. Likewise, for ships steaming eastward, the United States can assist in gaining staging accommodations in Gulf States such as Oman or the United Arab Emirates. Yemen, while logical on a map, would surely be an untenable risky endeavor for such use.

Outfit the security teams with .50 cals and rocket launchers. Any ship getting too close get a warning, and then gets lit up.

Of course some people are a bit squeamish about dispensing justice on the high seas.

Journalist Bret Stephens asks “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?” (op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 25 November 2008). His answers:

  1. No controlling legal authority, providing a basis on which to fight, capture, try, and punish pirates.
  2. International law (e.g., the Law of the Sea Convention) makes action against pirates difficult.
  3. UN authorization is necessary for most effective actions against pirates, such as attacking their bases.

All of these things are true, but they secondary factors (discussed in the next chapter). The vast majority of articles about piracy concentrate on these minor things. This post will attempt a clearer and more comprehensive explanation.

But the reality is that until we adopt the policy below - we can expect more and more of this nonsense. That which is rewarded gets repeated...


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