Sink the Pyrates (and their mansions)

Somali-pirate "…history shows that a military response can be successful, such as actions taken by the United States and other nations against pirates along the northern African coast in the two Barbary wars.

"That, for 200 years, has been a deterrent factor. No US merchant ship has been successfully hijacked by pirates," he says. He adds, however, "This time around, if the pirates get away with having hijacked, even unsuccessfully, a US flag cargo ship, it sends a very strong signal of perhaps a lack of will, especially in the case of Somalia where we know where the pirates are. We even know where the leaders literally live because they've built huge mansions that were put up in the last 18 months because of the piracy ransoms and revenues they gained," he says.

He saysfour UN Security Council resolutions and agreements with the interim Somali government allow the use of force. "If we don't root out these nests of piracy or at least send a very strong signal, we will end up telegraphing is a very strong signal of weakness," he says."  VOA


The situation with the Somali pirates/fishermen/tribesmen does not require sophisticated analysis.  In fact, there is a danger of over intellectualization of the matter.  Piracy is an "off season" business for tribal fishermen in coastal Somalia.  A half dozen men in a fiberglass "whale boat" armed with rifles and rocket propelled grenades are a small "investment if the prize is a multi-million dollar ransom paid by a shipping company focused solely on its "bottom line."  Tribal leaders are becoming rich and there has been remarkably little risk for any of the Somalis involved.  This has been almost as good a business as credit default swaps were on Wall Street. 

Piracy is crime.  The profit in it must be eliminated.  Until the profit disappears and the risk level is raised the Somalis will continue to "round up" the fat prizes passing by their shore.

People who think that the United States should "organize" Somalia so as to "drain the swamp" have very short memories.

The French did the right thing.  We must do the same.  There will be casualties.  That price must be paid to restore order and law at sea.  pl

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46 Responses to Sink the Pyrates (and their mansions)

  1. Bob says:

    I am almost always on the same page…not so this time. While piracy does need to be eliminated it is not quite the cut and dried subject that you make it out. Some years back I was working on a film in Somalia and there is a back story that is more than just low season fisherman going for an easy payday…

  2. Frank Newbauer says:

    Why is this treated as something new? At the close of the Roman Republic piracy became a major problem. While the long-term solution to the problem was economic stability, the short-term solution was provided by Pompey and later Julius Ceasar. Ceasar was famously kidnapped by pirates, whom he promised to return and kill. Following his ransom, he did just that. Piracy has always been a crime, and a capital crime at that. The pirates, and their overlords, will continue with business as usual until someone makes them pay a price. The Marines earned the refrain in their hymn, “to the shores of Tripoli”, through the suppression of piracy 200 years ago. It is time for the major maritime powers to step up – that means us. Or are we no longer a major maritime power? Alfred Thayer Mahan is rolling in his grave.

  3. Fitzhugh says:

    Why is it that a ship’s captain doesn’t carry a sword and colt revolver? And keep a locker of rifles on board? It seems bizarre that one would consider oneself in command of a ship and yet not be able to repel borders. The captain of a 747 freighter carries an automatic pistol, by way of comparison.
    In any case, on with the sinking of the pirates and the the torching of their houses. Until then I’ll drink to the French.
    (For information on how to deal with pirates read: “The Pirate Coast”)

  4. Bobo says:

    Time is running out as well as options. Letting a motor life boat go from 250 miles offshore to less than 20 is scandalous. Now we are negotiating with the Pirate’s superiors (elders) who get a piece of each parcel of ransom money. Yes, the French understand this situation and deal with it much better than we.
    OOPS ranting too much and doubting of our forces.
    According to CNN Captain Richard Phillips is safe and aboard the USS Boxer. Three Pirates KIA and one in custody.
    I salute our forces for a job well done… Screw the French

  5. Green Zone Cafe says:

    The situation seems now ripe for action. The pirates have surely run out of khat, at least. I predict the SEALs will come knocking tonight.
    Pray for them and Captain Phillips.
    Pray for the pirates, as well. Not their success, their souls. And give their families a chance to get out of their mansions before we bomb them.

  6. VietnamVet says:

    To end the piracy what Somalia needs is a State. Ethiopian occupiers, American Overlords or Predators bombing Pirate Mansions can’t establish a State. The USA needs to support a Green Revolution codifying the Islamic Courts. If that fails, then the Horn of Africa becomes the 51st State with all the rights, privileges and development accorded American [Neo-Roman] citizens, and decimation of all others.
    But, American War Profiteers need the Long War. Even, the Pirates on Wall Street are doing their best to take the skim off of the churn and bankrupting the United States. “Greed continues to be good. Government is still evil”.
    The third way is American withdrawal and containment. But there is no excess profit to be made this way.

  7. John Minnerath says:

    It was just announced that the skipper of the Maersk-Alabama has been released by US forces, 3 pirates dead and 1 wounded. It sounds like a force of our military staged a superb strike.
    The ship is safe with a detachment of US SEALs protecting it.
    I agree with Col. Lang’s opinion of the French actions and this one of ours shows it can be done.
    I still think merchant vessels in dangerous waters should have arms lockers for protection.
    Or the “Flag” nation should provide a detachment of military force aboard the vessels.
    These pirates aren’t trained professionals and will not go against a ship that will fire upon them.
    There are simply too many sea miles in this track of ocean for a naval force to provide total protection against attack.

  8. Mad Dogs says:

    Pat wrote: “The French did the right thing. We must do the same. There will be casualties. That price must be paid to restore order and law at sea. pl”
    Done and paid for:
    US sea captain freed in swift firefight

  9. graywolf says:

    You call for strong action against these pirates, yet you supported a candidate who abhors force and is ashamed to be an American.
    Apparently logic is not a requirement for intelligence officers.

  10. b says:

    US ship reaches Kenya minus kidnapped captain

    Quinn told reporters the experience was “terrifying and exciting at the same time.” Asked what he thought of the pirates who seized the boat, Quinn said: “They’re just hungry.”

  11. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Fox News just reported that President Obama authorized force twice – once on Friday and once on Saturday.
    One can abhor violence while still recognizing that it is necessary at times.
    Why do you think President Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan? To have a picnic? To play Pinochle?

  12. Mark Logan says:

    I would much rather see it done by making the ships harder to take. It’s so ridiculously easy for these
    men in tiny boats, and it can be made much tougher
    with minimal equipment and training.
    I suspect there are other places in the world where these precautions will prove worthwhile ones as well.
    But in the end, I agree, it has to be stopped. Even
    if it must be ugly.

  13. tmex12 says:

    Kudos to the SEALs. But does the use of Snipers not preclude a firefight? I know a narrative is developing, but there is need to get the news straight.

  14. different clue says:

    Are the Somali pirates merely resorting to piracy in the fishing off-season? I have read that illegal European trawling off Somalia has decimated fish-stocks to the point where Somali fishermen find too few fish to make a living. Worse, after the collapse of Somali coast-protective governmental authority, European countries began dumping toxic and radiological waste off the Somali coast; using Italian mafia groups as the feed-through handlers. Here is the link to an article presenting those claims.
    The recent onset of Somali piracy makes me think
    these claims could be the reasons driving coastal Somalis to piracy. If that is correct, then forcing European sources of the toxic dumping to find and recover all their waste, and effectively banning of foreign fishing fleets from Somali waters; should alleviate the pressures forcing Somali fishermen into piracy.
    In the meantime, of course, Somali piracy will have to be suppressed to prevent it from becoming a long-standing tradition like piracy in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, etc.

  15. Watcher says:

    Couple things not mentioned in the discourse so far;
    Total amount paid out in ransoms to Somali pirates in 2008 was 18-30 million us dollars (estimate from the Chatham House briefing paper “Piracy in Somalia”)
    Profits from global sea shipping is measured in the billions. For instance, in 2008, the Neptune Oriental Lines out of Shanghai posted profits of 9 billion dollars. So what we are actually looking at is a cost of doing business measured in tenths of a percent of the take of a global industry. Anybody else see/smell a red herring?
    So why go after the Somalis? Misplaced machismo? Bruised national ego? Mal directed sense of history? Great IO campaign by the shipping companies/industry?
    I would hazard to guess that we could sooner clog all the ports in somalia with hijacked ships before we put a serious dent in global shipping.
    If we want to worry about maritime safety, worry about the Dardenelles. If there is any achilles heel anywhere in the shipping industry, thats where it would be. Simply look at teh geography, the petro lines coming in and you’ll see how a Somalia pales in comparison.
    Graywolf, go grab another glass of kool-aid sit down.
    Mark Logan, that idea has been thrown around, but basic military tactics dictate that an obstacle put up must be overwatched to be effectived. Therein lies the cost of “toughening” any freighter. What are the ships owners and masters willing to pay to do this? They already hire seaman willing to work for the lowest pay if that tells you anything.
    Bottom line is this, the US Navy cannot fix this problem, no matter how good the shoot’em up fix sounds. I recall the last time the phrase “bring ’em on!” was uttered, it ended badly. This only ends well when we give the Somalis a reason to stop pirating, through either an economic/state building solution or we simply don’t sail by the HOA anymore.
    My 2 cents

  16. PirateLaddie says:

    Over 200 years agon, the USofA paid tribute to sundry pashas along the North African coast. After several years of increasing extortion, the Barbary crews had their accounts settled when the USMC & USN took the battle to the rulers home port. Only after the message was delivered by Decatur’s
    landing party, including one Reuben James, was the issue put to rest. Surely we know the home ports of this current crop of brigands. Rather than a fire ship, why not Hellfire missiles? We’re not talking nation building here.

  17. FDRDemocrat says:

    Wow, just wow, at the Navy Seals. Amazing.
    Also kudos to Obama, who made the right call – twice.

  18. china_hand says:

    I think, Colonel, you have not gotten the entire story:
    There have been plenty of scattered reports, now — for several months — about how the Western armada arrayed off of Somalia is doing two things: protecting illegal dumping of toxic waste by Western corporations (no doubt almost exclusively European) in Somali waters, and protecting illegal corporate fisheries as they drive away small-scale Somali fishermen from their traditional, legally-protected fishing grounds.
    And let’s face it: where they cannot be enforced, Western governments are no better than any other at acknowledging international commitments. So there is nothing to be surprised at, in these accusations.
    The local Somali fishermen are complaining that their communities are “starving”; while i personally have no idea about the severity of the problems they are experiencing, in a country like Somalia it’s not hard to imagine that seafood may be the only sustenance that the coastal communities can acquire.
    That these acts of piracy are a recent development is also excellent reason to presume that they are a reaction to recent provocations.
    I agree that piracy is not to be condoned; but i think, in light of the recent media treatments which we all, here, have acknowledged as deplorably, unforgivably one-sided and skewed, that it would be wrong for us to simply nod our heads in agreement that in this particular case, our media and governments are obviously doing a stand-up job of giving the Somalis their fair shake, and so now bringing the hammer down is the best response.
    Why haven’t we heard of any of the corporate trawlers, or corporate dumpers, getting confiscated and taken over? It’s a good question, since their actions are just as illegal — and far more violent, insofar as they threaten the existence of entire communities, rather than isolated crews and bottom-line profits — as those of the pirates.
    So why such inaction on the part of the Western navies?
    In fact, beyond the article i just linked to above, i have yet to hear any Western media outlet, anywhere, give the Somalis a chance to explain their side of things.
    I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “It takes two to tango.” I’d like to ask: considering that the Pentagon has already acknowledged the threats posed by widespread starvation and ecological degradation due to the effects of global warming (and the unspoken elephant in the room, over-population), shouldn’t the Somali demands be given due consideration?
    I hardly think that would be “over-intellectualization”. I think, in past centuries, it was instead called “Justice”.

  19. marcus says:

    Do you have evidence or facts to support your statement?
    For example I see in Obama’s Philadelphia address about race and his inaugural address expressions of pride in the country’s ability to grow and overcome adversity. Where is the evidence of shame you see?

  20. lina says:

    Purportedly, the reason these ships are not armed is the shipping companies would rather pay the ransom than the insurance premiums for an armed ship.
    The SEALs rock.

  21. MRW. says:

    I understand the effusion. However, what people need to understand is that the European countries have been dumping their nuclear waste in Somali waters for years and destroying their means of livelihood. Literally, killing any means of feeding their families; the fish are dead. Google Johann Hari. He documented it for a UK paper.
    This piracy was a payback action for the UN failing to act, and for not taking the Somalis seriously when they asked for help. It was basically ‘Screw you brown-skinned people’.
    Nuclear waste.

  22. Cold War Zoomie says:

    Strange, this seemed like a pretty cut and dry issue: pirates board ships with weapons, kidnap crew members, and then demand millions of dollars in ransoms.
    Yet some people are almost defending them?
    If I were hungry, I would never think to myself that the answer is to kidnap people at gunpoint and demand millions in ransoms!
    Wow, I’m stumped.

  23. Tyler says:

    Obama has a very deft touch here. He authorized the right amount of force at the right time.
    For the naysayers, remember how Bush’s first international challenge went down? Us having a spy plane forced to land in China while he made loud noises from the podium that did nothing in the end but have our technology stolen by the Chinese.
    With Obama, it really is his plan B you have watch for.

  24. Cieran says:

    It’s intriguing to see not one, but two links to Johann Hari’s article about this piracy problem. I found Hari’s analysis to be nothing short of awful, full of rhetorical devices (including a closing reference to Alexander the Great!), but completely devoid of any verifiable evidence that these pirates are indeed anything but pirates.
    What was especially interesting is that Hari’s essay from April 11th seemed to be a warning to others against the sort of silly rhetorical misdirection tricks he used in his piracy essay.
    Psychological projection, perhaps?
    To steal a phrase from Freud, perhaps sometimes a pirate is just a pirate.

  25. WILL says:

    the next step for Obama is to line up some Wall Street financial geniuses who got us in the Credit Default Swap mess & then took huge bonuses and turn the SEALS on them!
    How much have the pyrates stolen? under 50 million.
    How much have the financials stolen? billions upon billions.
    Who are the true heirs of Edward “Blackbeard” Teach?
    Some perspective.

  26. JfM says:

    Sometimes answers to life’s pop-up situations are obvious and fairly simple. We have clearly refused or forgotten methods used for a couple hundred years a century ago by the then-civilized world to effectively handle piracy. No quarter. Today, I’m confident; the US Navy has the 3 carcasses of the recently dispatched pirates in the cooler aboard the Bainbridge or another flotilla ship and is under instruction to return said remains to some willing and competent international body-at US taxpayer expense- for repatriation to their confederates ashore. Press conferences are held and policy debated to ameliorate the regrettable escalation. No, the three dead should be unceremoniously committed to the deep off the same fantail the shots were fired that sent them to their reward, and the 4th-now a guest of the Bainbridge- should be afforded the chance to swim home from current international water’s anchorage with all the links of chain he can carry. Enough of this tolerance and muted response. There is no bad consequence to come from a full-on US military response and much to be lost in hesitancy. Time to clear the waters.

  27. John Minnerath says:

    Johann Hari has been cited here several times. His “investigative journalism ” as a source of the “true” reasons behind the problems of Somalia and other world ailments.
    Some of his writing speaks to real problems that need to be considered and addressed, but all have the wail of extremism. Hardly worthy of consideration as valid unbiased fact.

  28. peg says:

    Hari’s analysis / verifiable evidence
    report by UN Environmental Programme
    especially pp 8-10.
    whatever Hari wrote doesn’t make piracy right.

  29. MRW. says:

    Then read the South African papers, their versions of the NYT and WaPo. They’ve been reporting on the nuclear waste dumps for years. France has been a major violator. The thoughtful African editor of one of the SA papers was on CNN yesterday. He mentioned this. Said he’d been reporting on the Somali fishing waters for 20 years, and offered a fascinating and practical means of fixing the piracy problem. [He made the point that western society is individualistic; Somalis are run by communities of tribal Elders, not whatever government is in so-called power. He said you need human intel on the ground there creating relationships with the elders who could put an end to it. He said those pirates dont make a move without Elder approval.] The dumb anchor talked over him.
    I didn’t read Hari’s April 11 article. Hari wrote a decent article in 2008 about the issue.

  30. MRW. says:

    I should add that this is raw nuclear waste dumped in Somali waters without any concern for containment. Yucca Mountain out here in the southwest is a lightning rod because it’s 90 miles from Las Vegas. The concern is what happens if it gets into the drinking water, and the issue revolves around what can physically contain the waste for 10,000 years, which is the waste’s life cycle. The barrels are to be buried deep underground, but the worry is what happens if water somehow leaks onto the barrels and they rust and fall apart.

  31. Mark Logan says:

    Watcher, I think the shippers are bearing some serious costs now.

  32. N.Z. says:

    Two things I’ll take into consideration:
    Nuclear waste being dumped close to the Somali shore line, consequently depriving them from fishing and, secondly, when the Islamic Courts took over the civilized nations where not happy.
    The Islamic courts brought the piracy incidents to record low, pirates where afraid of the strict Sharia laws being executed on them, the West decided to fund Somalia’s neighbour with ammunition and money to deter the courts to rule their country, where law and order was almost becoming the norm.
    I wonder who is gaining by the lawlessness in Somalia?
    A dozen or so Somalis, their supporters . For sure the not the population whom had suffered since the Clintonian era to this day.

  33. Stephen C says:

    Help me out. Don’t know much about Somalia…yet.
    It seems to me on the face of it, it is hard to square ‘fishermen’ backed into an economic corner with tribal kingpins living in mansions.
    Wouldn’t piracy tend to be evoked from long-standing patterns found in Somali tribal cultures, coastal pecking orders, and these both then would deeply inflect a well-armed resourcefulness drawn to the fat targets sailing by?
    Thanks in advance if you help draw a more complex picture of the local situation.

  34. MRW. says:

    Great link to that UN environmental report. Page 134 of the report goes into the detail. Here’s one paragraph:

    Further, Somalia is one of the many Least Developed Countries that reportedly received countless
    shipments of illegal nuclear and toxic waste dumped along the coastline. Starting from the early 1980s
    and continuing into the civil war, the hazardous waste dumped along Somalia’s coast comprised uranium
    radioactive waste, lead, cadmium, mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other
    toxic waste. Most of the waste was simply dumped on the beaches in containers and disposable leaking
    barrels which ranged from small to big tanks without regard to the health of the local population and
    any environmentally devastating impacts.

    It goes on to say that the Somali groundwater is now contaminated, and lists the medical catastrophes these people have endured for 20 years as a result.
    I agree this doesn’t justify piracy, but if it were happening to my family for two decades, my attitude would be dramatically different.

  35. Cieran says:

    I’m quite familiar with the general issue of disposal of nuclear waste, and with the particulars of Yucca Mountain. I’m also quite familiar with the fact that nuclear waste generates plenty of evidence of unsafe disposal. It’s rather difficult to hide, in fact.
    As I wrote earlier, none of that evidence was “in evidence” in Hari’s piece. His rhetoric was sloppy, and his writing was perfunctory. If he has evidence of illegal dumping (the kind of evidence that can be validated, and rest assured that leaking radioactivity can be validated), then he should put it in his columns. He didn’t do so in the case cited.
    If he has written better pieces in the past, then post those URL’s instead of the sloppy work he published in the Independent last week. And give some due thought to whether illegal dumping of anything by European nations constitutes legitimate grounds for pointing weapons at captains of U.S.-flagged ships.
    I’d suggest it doesn’t, and that raising the question of “radiation” is a red herring. Your opinion may be different, but then again, no one was pointing an AK-47 at your back.

  36. curious says:

    Somalia == Free OIL and GAS.
    Hello people? Why do you think we keep invading since way back decades ago?
    It’s Conoco and Shell
    (map of gas field/exploration)
    The somalian are screwed, to say the least. They will keep killing each other until the oil is gone, then the world will leave them alone.

  37. Duncan Kinder says:

    the next step for Obama is to line up some Wall Street financial geniuses who got us in the Credit Default Swap mess & then took huge bonuses and turn the SEALS on them!
    WILL, you are being very unfair to the banksters. It is the medical insurers who are the REAL pirates.

  38. Patrick Lang says:

    I am a bit surprised at the number of you who are seeking to make excuses for the pirates.
    Cieran is an authority on questions like the radiation issue raised here, but, in a way I think the radiation issue is irrelevant. Here in Virginia we are waging a long fight against trash, filth and garbage dumping in our mountains by New York City and similar places in the northeast. We do not like it but truck hijacking has not broken out on I-81 as yet. Perhaps we should do that. Would you back us?
    A lot of this sounds like the reflexive romance that many in the West feel for the 3rd world. Statements are being made that sound like paternalism and a desire to always side with people like Somali pirates.
    Someone wrote that he could not imagine the notion of palaces associated with the idea of the deep poverty of the Somalis. No? If you cannot imagine poverty and wealth side by side, then you have not spent enough time in the 3rd World. pl

  39. optimax says:

    Well done Seals. From Obama on down it was handled right. The Somali pirates say there will be retribution against the the U.S., so beware of being short-changed at the 7-11.
    If the U.S. goes it alone against the pirates, I hope we get reimbursed. We’ve been cleaning up Europe’s, especially France’s, messes since WWI without compensation.
    We should take the case of illegal dumping to the U.N. and make the offenders clean it up.

  40. curious says:

    Somalia is among the worst form of failed state in the world. Trying to fix somalia is not wise. Tribal, urban gangs, clans, military faction, religious war, drought/starvation, … oil/minerals.
    deal with pirates and protect shipping lanes/ships. that’s it. large invasion or operation is out of the question. It won’t accomplish anything.

  41. Eric Dönges says:

    Why haven’t we heard of any of the corporate trawlers, or corporate dumpers, getting confiscated and taken over? It’s a good question, since their actions are just as illegal — and far more violent, insofar as they threaten the existence of entire communities, rather than isolated crews and bottom-line profits — as those of the pirates.
    So why such inaction on the part of the Western navies?

    I’m no expert on maritime law, but as far as I know, piracy, drug smuggling and human trafficking are the only crimes at sea where there is universal jurisdiction; for all other matters, only the country whose flag the perpetrator is flying and the country in whose waters the crime is being committed have jurisdiction. (I have no idea who would have jurisdiction in international waters outside of the economic exclusion zones).

  42. curious says:

    Have a virtual tour to somalia. (that place is so empty. one large city, and few settlements.)
    wiki (it’s locked. no records of piracy and stuff.)

  43. pbrownlee says:

    Ah — there are pyrates and there are pirates and there are the smartest guys in the room.
    Didn’t “Boss” Tweed say he just saw his opportunities and he took ’em?
    Simon Johnson — The Quiet Coup — The Atlantic, May 2009 —

  44. ymen says:

    I know the thread is about the “Pyrates”, but I must confess the case of Somalia has a strange fascination to me. I am originally from Ethiopia so I am well versed in the reasons why there are Ethio-Somali difficulties, and would be the first to admit that Ethiopian hands are perhaps one of the more vigorous ones churning the pot to leave Somalia unsettled. Still, it is strange how a functional state has not been able to be established since 1991. Somalis were considered the “envy of Africa” for their cultural/ethnic and religious uniformity. But it seems the modern concept of the State just has not been able to transcend the primordial clan ties. Is it because the modern state system is built around people having allegiance to others who share the land with them, while Somalis (as most other traditionally nomadic people) owe their allegiance instead to people that share their journeys with them? But how does one explain much of the Arabian peninsula or Northern Africa? Was oil the determining factor in those situations?

  45. ym says:

    I am writing this on the 14th, and the matter has been solved. I thnk we did the right thing, although maybe waiting a little less time would have been better.
    It occurs to me that our ships should be guarded either by the navy, or perhaps in this kind of situation, where you know the vessel is entering pirated waters, there could be a small combat-ready unit aboard for protection.
    I have no qualms about shooting them out of the water. If a dingy with a half-dozen armed idiots approaches, you tell them back off or else.
    If they don’t get the message,”or else” them into the next life.
    Hey, that’s the biz. When you sign up to be a pirate, you should realize you may get get shot at. Just like of you sign up to be a soldier.
    End of story. Next.
    I hope our new CinC understands this.

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