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The Somali Pirates:

Strategy Page, one of the very best websites on military matters, explains why the pirates are immune from attack, and, under current conditions, will never be suppressed. (Further explanation here.) Ironically, while international law does not deter the pirates, it does deter their victims, and thus encourages piracy. Which is but a small example of how contemporary international law has been perverted into a tool against international commerce and civilization, whose protection was the very purpose of the creation of international law.

UPDATE: Wonderful essay by Mark Steyn on the same topic, noting, inter alia, the effect of U.K. government interpretation of the European Human Rights Act.

/:
whose protection was the very purpose of the creation of international law


That's what they want you to think!
4.12.2009 3:13am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
The one point that jumps out as unrealistic is the claim that the negative international reaction to the US invasion of Iraq means that pacification of Somalia is implausible. The two are hardly comparable. The invasion of Iraq was unpopular largely because it was pretextual and not sanctioned by the UN. In the case of Somalia, it is clear that piracy is a real problem, and there is a reasonable prospect of obtaining international agreement.
4.12.2009 3:27am
James Gibson (mail):
Somalia has been a problems for close to two decades now and the UN has not intervened. We tried during the Clinton presidency and look what was accomplished. From what country, or group of countries are we going to find troops to take control of all these pirate ports. And then for how long. Unless a stable government can be created the pirates will simply come back when the coalition gets tired of fitting the bill for the troops.

People have begun describing this in the same mode as the Barbary pirate wars. But few people realize that the Barbary Pirate wars were fought in two stages and what really put an end to the Piracy was the european nations establishing colonies all along the southern coast of the Mediterranean and what was then called gunboat diplomacy.
4.12.2009 4:02am
A. Zarkov (mail):
What this comes down to is that ship owners are more afraid of European lawyers than Somali Pirates, so they just pay the ransom.

Ship owners won't arm their crews for a variety of reasons.

1. Amazingly their insurance rates would go up with armed crews. I suppose the insurance companies are more afraid of lawyers too.

2. Some ports won't permit ships with armed crews to dock.

3. The ship owners fear bad publicity should they kill pirates.

4. The ship owners fear being branded criminals themselves and put on trial.

That leaves the world's navies. But they too fear violating the civil rights of pirates. In short the whole western world is full of cowards willing to pay tribute. Why wouldn't someone become a pirate under these conditions?

Compare and contrast to the British Navy in the 18th Century. Royal Navy First Lieutenant Robert Maynard set a trap for Blackbeard the pirate. He killed him, cut off his head, and ultimately the head was placed on a stake near the mouth of the Hampton River as a warning to other pirates.

Put some Somali Pirate heads on pikes, along with a few European lawyers and see what happens.
4.12.2009 5:06am
Avatar (mail):
One wonders, how long before it's cheaper to hire a Somali faction to go into the ports these pirates are using for bases, and just burn the place down/kill all the inhabitants? (I'm assuming you'd have to do this at a remove, of course, because it's hideously illegal. But paying ransom is too...) You could, of course, tell them to "just kill the pirates", but that probably wouldn't be as much of a deterrent.
4.12.2009 5:36am
Fact Checker:
I went to Strategy Page expecting Kopel's assertion to be backed up. Yet what I found was a rather sober, balanced, assessment of the geopolitical realities that make concerted action difficult. Nothing about international law protecting the pirates. Rather, it just sounds like, with the U.S. tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and NATO committed to Afghanistan along with residual commitments in the Balkans, nobody is willing to undertake the potentially very messy military operation that would be required to root out these pirates.

The current course--pay the ransoms and live with it--seems to be the best option right now. However, the pirates have foolishly started targeting western flagged ships, which means western crews are now being put at risk. The first European, Australian, American or Canadian that is killed by a pirate will probably change the calculus considerably.
4.12.2009 6:38am
common sense (www):
I wonder how much damage you would have to do to pirate ships to make it unprofitable. Surely, in a face to face fight, it would take minimal naval power to destroy a pirate ship. So, I'm surprised that someone hasn't had a small fleet enter the area and attack pirate ships. Imagine the national pride the Chinese would feel if their navy was able to 1) project force that far, 2) handle a problem the western world has been unable to, 3) win a substantive naval engagement. Chinese shipping as been at least threatened, right?
4.12.2009 7:29am
Vermando (mail) (www):
I also don't understand the connection between the linked to article and international law.
4.12.2009 8:31am
nvs (mail):
This is blatant anti-international law trolling. All StratPage says is that the more aggressive anti-piracy tactics (e.g., firing indiscriminately at anyone in a small boat, who may utilize human shields, over millions of square miles of ocean) would probably constitute war crimes. Do you want an anti-piracy exception to war crimes? Beyond that, the true victims of these lawless Somalis are, as is typical, the Somali people. Certainly the economic impact is negligible, although the OMG TEH PIRATES IZ LOOTING factor is quite high.
4.12.2009 9:01am
Ken Arromdee:
Why shouldn't human shields be considered combatants (assuming they are involuntary human shields, they'd be draftees), and this legitimately subject to attack?
4.12.2009 9:13am
pireader (mail):
Mr Kopel--

You link to two very-informative Strategy Page articles on East African piracy. But neither mentions "international law" or pirates being "immune from attack", even by implication.

Frankly, I can't see how they show that "contemporary international law has been perverted into a tool against international commerce and civilization".

However, they do suggest a very-sensible explanation why developed countries, including the US, won't do anything messy to suppress the Somali pirates--those countries have no material interest at stake.

Apwcifically, the links claim that the pirates don't threaten world trade, since it's mostly in ships too big and too fast for them to catch. Rather, the threat is to smaller slower ships in local trade, with local owners and crews.

What am I missing?
4.12.2009 9:25am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The pirates are, in an objective sense, minimally threatening.
What is threatening, to the extent that the west is paralyzed, is...lawyers.
4.12.2009 9:28am
Ghost of William Tecumseh Sherman (mail):
There are some very simple tried and true methods that navies all over the world have used.....captured pirates ought be keelhauled...and then hung from the ship's yardarm.

If they are lucky enough to find out where one of the thugs if from his home should receive two dozen tomahawk missles. Its the only thing these vermin will understand
4.12.2009 9:30am
progressoverpeace (mail):

Ironically, while international law does not deter the pirates, it does deter their victims, and thus encourages piracy. Which is but a small example of how contemporary international law has been perverted into a tool against international commerce and civilization, whose protection was the very purpose of the creation of international law.


There is nothing ironic or surprising about this. I mention this simple little fact every time discussion of the UN (or other global orgs) come up:

Only a total fool would support the existence of empowered, peerless, competitionless entities. They are guaranteed to grow in grotesque and destructive ways.


Don't people understand the most basic aspects of evolutionary theory? Why is it so difficult for people to understand that growth, unconstrained by an external environment, is as unnatural and dangerous as anything we have ever seen? But, we are still met with people who will argue for the existence of such entities, when the theoretical foundation is an intellectual sham, to begin with.
4.12.2009 9:37am
11-B/2O.B4:
I for one hope that we can reach an international consensus among all nations that piracy cannot be tolerated. Only then can the countries of the world come together as one..... and send some US forces to deal with this threat.

Incidentally, I've seen some of the craft that these "pirates" are using. We're not talking capital ships-of-the-line here. If you want to stop this piracy, a single team of marines/soldiers/sailors armed with a single Mark-19 grenade launcher and a 240-B LMG per ship would be sufficient. these weapons are portable enough to be moved from place to place about a ship, far longer range than anything the pirates could bring to bear, and large enough to sink the type of boats they typically use.
4.12.2009 9:57am
Guessed1:
"Which is but a small example of how contemporary international law has been perverted into a tool against international commerce and civilization, whose protection was the very purpose of the creation of international law."

Let me go out on a limb here and guess: because it discourages international commerce in weapons, with their civilizing force, when it was supposed to make the acquisition of might and the use of force more orderly and efficient?
4.12.2009 10:04am
Mark Field (mail):
I have to agree with Fact Checker, Vermando and pireader: Prof. Kopel's ideology warped his reading of the link (at least the first one -- I didn't bother to read the second when I found his description of the first so wildly off the mark).
4.12.2009 10:07am
11-B/2O.B4:
wow.....Guessed, you are a genius, you took commentary of a situation in which armed pirates are capturing unarmed vessels, holding hostage and disrupting shipping.......and what you get out of it is that it's good we make it ridiculously expensive and prohibitively restricted for honest merchants to arm their ships? Or are you just reading something completely different and posted in this thread by mistake?
4.12.2009 10:11am
DiverDan (mail):
"When Guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have guns."

Does anybody care to speculate how the calculus might change if a small proportion, say 30%, of the crews on merchant ships traveling through the pirate waters were fully armed and authorized to fire on any unidentified speedboat approaching their ship, with orders to kill all armed men on board and sink the speedboat? No prisoners, any unarmed men, women or children could be given flotation devices and left to swim home. My guess is that events of piracy would decline rapidly if each pirate knew that there was a one in three chance of every Somali on board the speedboat dying in any attack.
4.12.2009 10:14am
pintler:

The current course--pay the ransoms and live with it--seems to be the best option right now.


Paying ransom, like dumping toxic waste in the back 40, is a short sighted policy that solves your immediate problem cheaply, while guaranteeing greatly increased costs - and I am speaking of human costs, not economic - for you and everyone else in the future.
4.12.2009 10:20am
ERH:
It seems we already have a law to deal with piracy, see Title 18 Part I Chapter 81 Section 1653. But the bigger question of why the uptick in piracy is answered by history. Whenever the major naval power of the time is in decline, piracy increases.
4.12.2009 10:20am
flashman (mail):
I won't quibble with what others are writing about the lack of a clear link with international law.

What I am a bit bugged about is the lack of any easy-to-find names and qualifications of those writing for StrategyPage. As a retired military intelligence officer and school-trained strategist (I taught strategy at the US Army's Command and Staff College) I find this a little odd. I'd really like to know who I'm reading and what experience and qualifications they have to address the subject. That way I can more appropriately address the author's possible bias and motivation to write the article.

The writer(s) may be fully qualified, and I don't necessarily disagree with what they've written, but that's no reason to accept their assessments without question.
4.12.2009 10:30am
JNT:
International law is only marginally implicated in the article, and that is for the proposition that, generally, murdering innocent women and children is generally frowned upon in warfare. Though, as the article itself acknowledges, it is very unlikely a pacification attempt would actually lead to someone being a war criminal.

So basically your argument is that because international law has failed to magically end piracy or garner the political will to halt a problem that, as of yet, is not economically damaging enough to convince states to involve themselves, international law is a conspiracy to destroy commerce and civilization?

Don't cite to a source that doesn't prove what you're saying, or if you do, explain why the link is actually relevant or supportive of your position. Or if you do go ahead and do that, don't be surprised when you're not taken seriously.
4.12.2009 10:43am
CDU (mail) (www):
There's really a very simple solution: make paying a ransom a felony. If an individual does it, they go to jail. If a corporation does it, the government gets all their assets. Once it doesn't pay, piracy is going to dry up real quick.
4.12.2009 10:47am
Kenno (mail):
We don't need a land war against the pirates. What we do need is to arm the crews.

If European lawyers are driving up insurance costs, the solution is simple: the US needs to pass laws immunizing US businesses from foreign lawsuits based on their carrying of weapons.
4.12.2009 10:49am
Sarcastro (www):
There's really a very simple solution: turn family members of victims into criminals! That is sure to play almost as well as nuking Somalia.
4.12.2009 10:50am
mattski:

Ship owners won't arm their crews for a variety of reasons.
1. Amazingly their insurance rates would go up with armed crews. I suppose the insurance companies are more afraid of lawyers too.
2. Some ports won't permit ships with armed crews to dock.
3. The ship owners fear bad publicity should they kill pirates.
4. The ship owners fear being branded criminals themselves and put on trial.


Zarkov, I think you omitted the most important reason. Arming their crews would dramatically increase the probability of crew members being wounded or killed in firefights with pirates. This would expose the owners to serious liability which is why it isn't at all amazing that insurance rates would skyrocket. Not to mention the fact that there is no shortage of highly flammable materials on cargo ships.

Maybe there is a way to change the calculus by training crews in the use of weapons & tactics, increasing their pay to reflect the increased risk and limiting the owners liability to the extent possible in the employment contract? But I'm not sure how you get around the inherent volatility of the ship itself.
4.12.2009 10:56am
strategichamlet (mail):
"these weapons are portable enough to be moved from place to place about a ship, far longer range than anything the pirates could bring to bear"

"fully armed and authorized to fire on any unidentified speedboat approaching their ship"

Do you really think these pirates just sail in on a bright sunny day with their speedboats while the ship's captain watches through binoculars and thinks "gee I wish I had a .50cal and the 'authorization' to use it"?

The pirates succeed because they are generally able to approach and board the ship undetected under cover of night. Stopping them with the manpower aboard your average shipping vessel is not trivial, no matter how well armed. Why is it in every one of these threads some people are so convinced that the solution is easy?
4.12.2009 11:00am
Pro Natura (mail):
ERH has it exactly right in my opinion.
4.12.2009 11:00am
K_Engineer:
Back in the early 1990s, I took a 2 year assignment as a chemical engineer in Kuwait. We were briefed about possibility of kidnapping.

I recorded a video -- instructing the authorities that if I am kidnapped, and they know where the kidnappers are, to call in an airstrike and take the SOBs out without ANY reservation or consideration of my welfare. And I cursed to hell every person in the past who had ever paid a ransom. If you pay a ransom, you are doing nothing but guaranteeing the kidnapping of the next guy.
4.12.2009 11:01am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Chances are...considering the various forces involved in this including money laundering...that any ship armed or which picks up an armed contingent by helicopter out of sight of land will be known to the pirates.
Sure, no international law will be raised against those who fight pirates.
Until the first video shows somebody in rags whose AK has been moved out of the frame of the picture and all of a sudden, we have friendly advice that so-and-so might not want to travel to Europe. Could get arrested.
Point is, don't trust the promises or predictions of lawyers that they or their brethren will or will not refrain from this or that.
As my kids used to say...Psyyyyyych!
4.12.2009 11:02am
Guessed1:
11-B/2O.B4: thanks for calling me a genius, but that's overkill. My point was that Kopel was making a baseless claim about the perversion of international law, probably based on his own perversion of its central concerns toward his particular causes. A fair point, I think, and one you must have agreed with, but it's so obvious that it probably doesn't deserve to be called genius.
4.12.2009 11:18am
DennisN (mail):
Just some random thoughts on the issue:

The problem with ship owners is mostly economic. If you factor in the probability of capture, it is cheaper for them to pay ransom than to pay to protect themselves. This is probably the case even without the issue of liability. Until that changes, the issue won't go away.

I like the idea of making the payment of a ransom a felony; domestically, internationally, secretly, overtly, it should be outlawed.

The US has very little leverage over shipowners, here, as very few vessels are US flagged. Most of the nations that offer flags of convenience have no navies, so they are helpless. They don't care anyway, they have their registration fees. Why should the US or France or whoever take any effort to protect Panamanian or Liberian vessels?

With even minimally armed crews, it should not take much effort to repel boarders. The secret is good watch keeping. That takes additional hands, and is too expensive to bother with. The issue of armed vessels not being allowed into ports could be solved by helicoptering an armed protection party onto a ship and removing them before they enter national waters. A private firm like Blackwater, preferably issued with Letters of Marque, could easily handle it. Unfortunately, that is still to expensive to bother with.

The only way to suppress piracy is to suppress their bases. Burn all the villages on the Somali Coast and sink everything that floats. It wouldn't take much of that to dry up the pirates local infrastructure. We won't do that, of course, and essentially no one else has the capability.
4.12.2009 11:48am
ArthurKirkland:
I have a hard time believing the United States military couldn't handle this with flying colors. Drones, satellites, naval vessels, long-range weapons, jets. Identify, track, destroy.

This isn't petty bullying (Grenada) or transparent pretext (Iraq); it is a genuine threat to the United States -- at least with respect to U.S.-flagged vessels. Perhaps the U.S. response could be conditioned on U.S. registry, which might bolster the U.S.-flagged shipping industry. (Or we might require reimbursement for services provided to foreign-flagged vessels.)

Kill 'em all. Or, more likely, kill some of them and persuade the others to find something else to do.
4.12.2009 11:57am
llamasex (mail) (www):
Damn all you for actually reading the article and pointing out that the assertions in the post aren't backed up by the link!


Don't you realize this is the reason less and less posters are allowing comments. Always following up and questioning the weak connections made.
4.12.2009 12:03pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
mattski:

" ... I think you omitted the most important reason. Arming their crews would dramatically increase the probability of crew members being wounded or killed in firefights with pirates."

Why don't we ask the crews if they want arms? We have private armed guards all over the place. I think you exaggerate the danger over a passive response that allows one to be taken hostage.

"Not to mention the fact that there is no shortage of highly flammable materials on cargo ships."


...

"But I'm not sure how you get around the inherent volatility of the ship itself."

These ships don't carry nitroglycerin. A 40 caliber bullet from a handgun is not going to penetrate a steel hull and cause something to detonate. It's even safe to fire a gun inside a passenger jetliner if you use special bullets. EL Al uses armed guards aboard its passenger planes. This is a non-problem.

Of course the idea is to shoot out at the pirates before they board the ship when they are not even close to the ship. If the ship has guns with a greater range than an AK-47, then pirates in a small unarmored craft are sitting ducks.
4.12.2009 12:24pm
Oren:

I think you exaggerate the danger over a passive response that allows one to be taken hostage.

The Somalis have not once, to my knowledge, laid a finger on a hostage. In some senses, being a hostage is the safest bet since both parties have the strongest incentive to keep you alive.
4.12.2009 12:37pm
mattski:

Why don't we ask the crews if they want arms?

Because it isn't for the crew to decide?

We have private armed guards all over the place. I think you exaggerate the danger over a passive response that allows one to be taken hostage.

Why don't you ask the ship owners their opinion? You seem to imply that the owners are somehow mentally incompetent. I rather doubt that.
4.12.2009 12:53pm
ChrisIowa (mail):
Mark Field

I have to agree with Fact Checker, Vermando and pireader: Prof. Kopel's ideology warped his reading of the link (at least the first one -- I didn't bother to read the second when I found his description of the first so wildly off the mark).

Except nowhere in his post does Kopel say that the readings in the links have anything to do with international law. Kopel presents the links as information and makes a short observation on some implications of that information. In this case his thoughts ponder the effects of international law given the facts presented in the article.

Kopel could be criticized, but for not more fully forming and expounding on his thoughts before posting. Not for misleading.

I would think a bunch of attorneys would read more carefully.
4.12.2009 12:56pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
mattski:

"Because it isn't for the crew to decide?"

Why not? The crews are the ones held for ransom. Who else besides the crew would be suing for damages? The pirates?

"Why don't you ask the ship owners their opinion?"

Let's do that. But remember they are businessmen who will always take the least cost approach regardless of the long term universal consequences. Ever hear of the Tragedy of the commons?
4.12.2009 1:11pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Oren:

"The Somalis have not once, to my knowledge, laid a finger on a hostage. In some senses, being a hostage is the safest bet since both parties have the strongest incentive to keep you alive."

Pirates did kill Chinese crewman on one of their freighters, but I don't know if they were specifically Somalis pirates. Guess what the Chinese did? They executed the pirates.

So far we have only a small sample, so we don't know the risk to being a hostage. But I for one would rather fight back then get taken hostage. Over and over, I hear people counsel passivity. That kind of thinking is leading to the destruction of the western world.

What is the problem with killing the pirates on the spot?
4.12.2009 1:18pm
mattski:

Over and over, I hear people counsel passivity. That kind of thinking is leading to the destruction of the western world.

Whoo-boy.

Who else besides the crew would be suing for damages?

The crews extended family would be suing. But, Sir, it is up to the ships owners whether to arm and train the crew to repel pirate attacks by force and isn't it weird that a lefty like me is telling that to a righty like you??

What is the problem with killing the pirates on the spot?

Speaking for myself, I have absolutely no problem with it. But people who speak as if there is a magic-easy-obvious use-of-force solution to this problem are just out of it.
4.12.2009 1:37pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
It seems to me that the basic problem is more fundamental than most of the commentators and conspirators seem to think. The basic issue is: People in poor and lawless towns with access to inexpensive weapons are going to find piracy a real benefit, and the risks involved are simply not manageable.

You go in and level towns, sink boats, etc. The locals will flee to the hills, move to other towns and start back up. The other towns will find the income more important than the risk.

In short anything short of a full invasion and nation-building exercise in Somalia will accomplish exactly nothing if we look primarily to military power to resolve the issue. If we go it alone.... Well... I am not sure that we can readily afford to occupy Somalia and still meet our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And if we do, we immediately give Somali Pirates a "Patriots against foreign invader" platform.

I think there are ways forward, but we have to start from the knowledge that American military power is limited and that military force alone will do absolutely nothing to resolve the issues.

Ok....

So what do I think needs to be done:

1) Start by understanding the problem. We have a lawless zone in the midst of civil and international war. Lawless zones are critical resources for pirates, terrorists, etc. The lawless zone needs to be eliminated. Unless you eliminate the lawless zone, piracy will return. This is effectively what the establishment of European colonies in North Africa did during the war against the Barbary Pirates. We need not go this far, but we need to understand that this dynamic is crucial to success.

2) Gain support from Somalia's neighbors (Ethiopia, Kenya, etc) for this sort of thing. Their assistance and help will be crucial here. The African Union also needs to play a leading role, but we need to provide support (including possibly warships, air power, etc).

3) There needs to be a consensus that everyone is in it for the long haul. Blowing up a few targets and going away will do absolutely nothing. This is probably a decade-long operation.

4) Ground operations need to be made to sieze most of these areas and establish military patrols around them. Ground patrols along the coast are fundamentally more important than sea patrols.

5) Law and order needs to be established in Somalia.

6) Rules of engagement with pirates: once ransom is paid for any ship, investigation, arrest, and prosecutions begin. Yes, military troops will be needed here to do much of the law enforcement. Pirates caught attacking other ships should be attacked by any ships in the area.
4.12.2009 1:39pm
Oren:

But I for one would rather fight back then get taken hostage. Over and over, I hear people counsel passivity. That kind of thinking is leading to the destruction of the western world.

The kind of thinking where we don't spend tens of billions to solve a problem that is costing us hundreds of millions? The kind that acknowledges that the world is sort of a shitty place and isn't full of nice people and, seeing that, attempts to find the best way to live without constantly sending the USN to go swat at flies.


What is the problem with killing the pirates on the spot?

Nothing is wrong with it. I just don't think it's the course of action that maximizes our gains while minimizing our losses.

I have no qualm whatsoever with sinking any pirate vessel and summarily executing and captured pirate. I just don't think it's worth the effort.
4.12.2009 1:52pm
Miked0268 (mail):
Can't they send out a few "decoy" freighters with a seal team or SAS squad on them? If the pirates had a 10% or so chance of picking the "wrong" ship and getting wiped out, wouldn't that possibly deter them?
4.12.2009 2:20pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"The crews extended family would be suing. But, Sir, it is up to the ships owners whether to arm and train the crew to repel pirate attacks by force ... "

So the employer is always right in your book? It's ok for an employer to subject his employees to a danger he can mitigate? The maritime unions should make this an issue.
4.12.2009 2:20pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
In the U.S. we don't execute for theft or kidnapping. Certainly, we don't do summary executions. What is it about the high seas that makes a difference? Or perhaps you think that the police should be summarily executing people for theft or kidnapping as well?
4.12.2009 2:25pm
Oren:
Duffy, pirates aren't US citizens. The military isn't the police. The Gulf of Aden isn't an inner city.


So the employer is always right in your book? It's ok for an employer to subject his employees to a danger he can mitigate? The maritime unions should make this an issue.

They get hazard pay!
4.12.2009 2:28pm
Das Ram (mail):
Unfortunately, I do not have an real input on how to solve this issue. I can say I would LIKE to see the crew of the ships fight back.

However, another concern to having ships crews with arms, is the fact that the crew itself could commit mutiny.

I also want to berate the posters who have considered making the Victims CRIMINALS who pay ransoms. That is the most heinous consideration out there. I think you folks are too closely related to the Lawyers and need to be shirked.

Has anyone considered defensive strategies to keep the pirates from walling the ship? Something such as an electric fence? I can see a nice Blue Light stretched across the starboard as well - - "Ahh, we see the light" Zap!! Fish Food!
4.12.2009 2:58pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
Of course the idea is to shoot out at the pirates before they board the ship when they are not even close to the ship. If the ship has guns with a greater range than an AK-47, then pirates in a small unarmored craft are sitting ducks.
Unfortunately there are quite a few shoulder-launched-missile type weapons around the area, which could be launched from a motorboat. A freighter is rather a large, slow-moving target.

Also, most of these freighters are automated to the point where you have about a five-person crew, and a couple of them have to be asleep at any one time. Not a lot of eyes or trigger fingers.

Long-term, however, arming ships is about the only thing that will work. But given IANSA that's even more PIC than razing villages.
The maritime unions should make this an issue.
Uh, "foreign flag" remember. One of the reasons such ships are registered outside the major countries is to get away from maritime unions.
4.12.2009 3:08pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"The kind of thinking where we don't spend tens of billions to solve a problem that is costing us hundreds of millions?"

We don't need to spend billions. We need to have some backbone.

1. Arm the crews.
2. Install radar and acoustic detection equipment. I have been out of the radar business for a long time, but I think we could detect even small craft approaching.
3. Have a policy of shoot to kill any craft that approaches a US ship, military or commercial. All craft approaching closer than some defined distance are sent to the bottom.
4. Execute captured pirates on the spot.
5. Do not pay ransom.
4.12.2009 3:13pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
LarryA:

You bring up some excellent points. Bravo. Indeed if the pirates can come into possession of the kind of advanced technology that would enable them to threaten a ship from a distance, then we indeed have a serious problem. Arming crews deals with the simple problem of getting boarded on the high seas by lightly armed pirates.

Now can you be specific about which shoulder launched missile you have in mind? Surface-to-air systems such as the Stinger Missile would not work as a surface-to-surface device. RPGs don't have the range and neither does something like a Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault weapon such as the Israeli B-300. Most surface-to-surface shoulder launched missiles are anti-tank weapons. I can't think of any that one could deploy against a ship from a range much greater than 2,000 yards. I don't think the technology exists.

Let's also remember that the average IQ in Sub-Saharan Africa is 67. That does not produce many people who could operate a sophisticated weapon system from a small craft. Let's say the system takes an IQ above 105 (just a little above average for the US). Assuming normality that means 0.19% of the population. According to the CIA Factbook Somalia has about 2.5 million mean between the ages of 14-65. Let's say 5% are willing and physically capable of becoming pirates. That gives us a pool of 232 men to operate the weapons-- not much.
4.12.2009 4:17pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
LarryA:

A freighter is rather a large, slow-moving target.


Depends on the freighter. Remember that the maximum speed of a ship with a nonplaning hull is proportional to the square root of the hull length. Many of the biggest tankers in the world are capable of sustained speeds of > 60 knots (rough calculation for most boats: approx max speed in knots = 1.3 * square root of hull length in feet). Speedboats may be capable of faster speeds, but inflatable boats and fishing boats aren't going to be capable of that. The above calculations are based on wave mechanics in water and while it is possible to supercede those speeds it takes a great deal of energy and can carry other risks as well (clipper ships used to be prone to "sailing into the water" where the bow wave comes over the deck and sinks the ship, for example).

Of course, for a very large ship to stop or maneuver at full speed is a challenge and requires some space...
4.12.2009 4:46pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Oren:

The first is not a difference. There isn't a separate standard for whether someone gets executed based on whether the person is a U.S. Citizen, at least not in any U.S. Court.

The second difference may matter. But a summary execution happens after capture. And my question is, why, if you would authorize the military to summarily execute someone for theft, but withhold the same authority from the police?

Your third difference is exactly the one I was asking about: why is a crime on the high seas worthy of so much greater a punishment than the same basic crime when committed within the U.S.? To point out that the high seas is different than a city, just restates the premise of the question. It doesn't answer it.
4.12.2009 6:32pm
Careless:

The Somalis have not once, to my knowledge, laid a finger on a hostage. In some senses, being a hostage is the safest bet since both parties have the strongest incentive to keep you alive.

A french hostage was killed Friday when the French military tried to rescue him and his family. Not sure if it was the military or the pirates who actually killed him.
4.12.2009 7:10pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Duffy Pratt:

Privacy occupies a region outside the normal boundaries of civil law. It admits universal jurisdiction and most nations have considered pirates as enemies of humanity. The US Constitution calls out piracy specifically
The Congress shall have Power ... To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
In English Admiralty law pirates were legally subject to summary execution.

By tradition and context piracy is special, and treated more severely than ordinary civil crimes. Much of what we do in law is based on tradition. But I think we can go beyond mere tradition in making piracy special. Being on the high seas provides an advantage to the attacker-- no witnesses, and the evidence including the victims can go to the bottom. Few crimes afford that special advantage. Moreover, one can't easily call for or get help. Thus it seems reasonable to treat piracy especially severely to provide a stronger measure of deterrence.
4.12.2009 7:38pm
Sebastian the Ibis (mail):
Why does everyone seem to think that Piracy is an issue to be resolved by nation states? And that the problems of Somalia have to be solved eliminate piracy? Arming the crew is all that is really needed. As soon as pirates start having to seriously worry about being killed they will stop.

Military force as deployed now is entirely too cumbersome to defeat piracy. There was at least an amphib, aegis missile destroyer and a team of specially deployed SEALS and FBI agents on station next to an lifeboat with no engine and 4 untrained pirates. While this is great this time even Uncle Sam cannot afford this response to every time a boat is hijacked. It's also reactive, we may win the battle but we will never win the war reacting to what pirates do. It's like a hunter-killer squadron of destroyers finding a U-boat in WWII before convoys were implemented. You've killed one set of bad guys, but the other bad guys have ravaged your merchant fleet while you are distracted.

Military force could also can't be used to go after the Pirates bases, either through violence or nation building. Our military refuses to fight this sort of enemy effectively. Richard Clark did an excellent job explaining the problems the Pentagon had deploying soldiers to take out Mohammad Farah Aidid and Bin Laden, namely the generals would not order a small team of soldiers to go in and do the job. The raids involved way too many people and it became a clusterf**k . The Pentagon also refuses to acquire the types of weapons necessary to fight these battles. Predators seem perfect for this sort of mission. Put a hundred of them on patrol over the ocean and drop a hellfire on any speedboat chasing after a freighter that puts out a distress call. However, the Predator was designed by the CIA. It was then taken over by the Airforce which immediately put all drones into its acquisitions death spiral. The United Nations and United States efforts at Nation Building in Somalia have also been failures. People can argue to death about how it should be done differently however any plan would cost so much that it will never actually be done.

Sometimes you do not need a professional to do the job. Much like adjusting your seatback instead of hiring an engineering department to do it for you, this is a job that is better done by whoever is there than having a professional do it.

Sheeple and head-in-the-sanders argue that shooting at pirates is dangerous, however I would proffer that standing up to shoot armed men with a water hose or siren is more dangerous. 1) you are just as exposed if not more so 2) you annoy the pirates just as much 3) you're using a piddling weapon that cannot kill them. Sheeple also say that it is dangerous to fire weapons on a boat. However I am sure that with a little training the crew can learn to not shoot at petrol tanks and toss flares into paint lockers.

The best thing Governments can do in this situation is ease regulations and let crews handle this on their own. Make clear safeharbors for having guns on ships, and don't prosecute crews for machine-gunning the fishing boat that throws a grappling hook on them. The United States could set a great example to the world hear by making an exception to 922(o) and (r) for weapons that do not come on land.
4.12.2009 9:16pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Sebastian of Ibis:

Why does everyone seem to think that Piracy is an issue to be resolved by nation states? And that the problems of Somalia have to be solved eliminate piracy? Arming the crew is all that is really needed. As soon as pirates start having to seriously worry about being killed they will stop.


I am not at all convinced. First I am not sure what the implications of armed guards on merchant ships is regarding international humanitarian law. Traditionally merchant ships in recent decades have been unarmed in order to ensure non-combatant status. Hence arming ships might have unpredictable consequences.

Now, a second problem is that it is very likely that the penumbra of piracy organizations probably includes international terrorist organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda. So there is a lot of interest on the parts of these organizations to keep piracy viable. Going after piracy means in all likelihood going after other terrorists as well who are not on the coasts.

Right now the American position seems to be "If you are with a dwarf and encounter a dragon, you don't have to outrun the dragon, only the dwarf." I am not saying this is dangerous but it doesn't even approach the real issues of the dragon extracting tribute from everyone ELSE selling you goods.

The few times I have looked at having stuff shipped into this country on container ship, I have not chosen US-based shipping. Hence you can bet that these cases end up paying higher insurance that pays the pirates. However, from my point of view, it is just cost of doing business.
4.13.2009 12:12am
MarkField (mail):

Except nowhere in his post does Kopel say that the readings in the links have anything to do with international law. Kopel presents the links as information and makes a short observation on some implications of that information. In this case his thoughts ponder the effects of international law given the facts presented in the article.


This strikes me as an awfully charitable reading of the post, but I'll grant it. The problem remains that there's no transition which explains why we're being referred to the link, nothing to relate the link to the observations of Prof. Kopel. The link adds nothing in your reading; he could have simply begun with "I've been thinking about the pirates and the impact of international law on the reaction to them".
4.13.2009 12:21am
tsotha:
The first is not a difference. There isn't a separate standard for whether someone gets executed based on whether the person is a U.S. Citizen, at least not in any U.S. Court.

U.S. courts don't have jurisdiction. High seas pirates have always been considered hostis humanis generis. They are, literally, outside the protection of law. "Outlaws", one could say. You'd never know it from reading the newspaper, but international law once supported civilization.
4.13.2009 4:03am
John Skookum (mail):
@Oren: The kind of thinking where we don't spend tens of billions to solve a problem that is costing us hundreds of millions?

"Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute." --Robert Goodloe Harper

This is sometimes erroneously attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but is nonetheless a great statement of the American Way.

And I don't think it would cost more than a billion or so to send every Somali vessel bigger than a rowboat to the bottom of the sea.
4.13.2009 5:42am
Mark Buehner (mail):
Why not just sink every Somali vessel we can find and burn their docks? No ships, no pirates.
4.13.2009 9:20am
Oren:

Why not just sink every Somali vessel we can find and burn their docks? No ships, no pirates.

They are flush with cash, and will purchase a new set of speedboats (now cleverly hidden 1 mile inland in a barn) within a week. Remarkably, they spend 20% of their income on reinvestment and capitol expenses. Last year the take was $300 million, so I think they can afford a total rebuild of their fleet.

Plus, they'll have thousands more recently unemployed fishermen to hire. It's a lose-lose.
4.13.2009 10:01am
Oren:

"Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute." --Robert Goodloe Harper

Why not trillions for defense? Why don't we convert the entire GDP to defense to avoid paying what amounts to a toll?

You sound like the lefties that dismiss any cost/benefit argument to environmental protection by simply stating that something is infinitely-worthy. That's crap when they say it and crap when you say it. Everything has a price.
4.13.2009 10:03am
Mark Buehner (mail):

They are flush with cash, and will purchase a new set of speedboats (now cleverly hidden 1 mile inland in a barn) within a week

Speed boats aren't the issue- they have a very short range and wouldn't have a prayer of intercepting a commercial vessel. Its the 'mother-ships' that tote them out into the shipping lanes that are the problem, and those are more expensive, difficult to hide, and easy to find.
4.13.2009 10:59am
Mark Buehner (mail):


Why not trillions for defense? Why don't we convert the entire GDP to defense to avoid paying what amounts to a toll?

But we have to consider the fact that this problem is escalating. It will be more expensive to deal with it in 5 years when the pirates have become wealthier and attracted more men and firepower than it is today. The question is- what is our end game? If, barring some deus ex machina this piracy will continue to grow apace and more and more American citizens become victimized, is there any question military force on some scale will at some point be required?

If dozens or hundreds of Americans end up captured and sequestered, a sizeable land force probably will be required to try to retrieve them. That is an order of magnitude more expensive and destructive than what amounts to a raiding party sent in today.
4.13.2009 11:03am
Oren:

Its the 'mother-ships' that tote them out into the shipping lanes that are the problem, and those are more expensive, difficult to hide, and easy to find.

And easy to commandeer too, as the Dutch found out a few months ago.


It will be more expensive to deal with it in 5 years when the pirates have become wealthier and attracted more men and firepower than it is today. The question is- what is our end game

That's one possibility. The other possibility is that one pirate gang seizes a monopoly, charges monopoly-rent-style tolls on shipping and prevents other pirates from operating. That would be the preferred solution. As Posner says, you can even call them a government and rename the toll to "foreign aid". They can be responsible for their own law enforcement at a fraction of what it costs us to police the world.

The pirates have heretofore been quite good about not harming their hostages (more valuable alive) and, since the shipping is insured, no one wants to mess with the situation.
4.13.2009 11:26am
Mark Buehner (mail):

And easy to commandeer too, as the Dutch found out a few months ago.

Except that if they are deprived of their mother ships, they will lack the ability to get more, which is the point. A speedboat has a range of maybe a hundred miles (maybe) and no ability to stay 'on station' waiting for a victim. A mothership can strike a thousand miles out and have the luxury of waiting around almost indefinitely for an easy mark. Destroy the mother-ships, the threat is vastly reduced and the capability can't be replaced easily, certainly not for some time (especially if we follow up).

Instead of futilely sending warships across half the Indian ocean hoping by luck to be in the right place at the right time, we should gather a large force and simply scour the Somali coastline unloading the crews and burning every vessel we find, where we know they have to return to eventually, unloading the crews and burning every vessel we find. Then with a small number of ships we blockade the pirate towns and pick off any stragglers. Burning their docks will hamper them as well.


That's one possibility. The other possibility is that one pirate gang seizes a monopoly, charges monopoly-rent-style tolls on shipping and prevents other pirates from operating.

Well, maybe that will happen (wouldn't it follow that we should be equipping and bribing our favored cartel?). And maybe it continues to be a 'mafia' style cooperative effort which each band of pirates getting what they can.

I find it odd to think that Somalians can't get a strong man able to control their land that they will somehow find a pirate king to control the tribes at sea- seems unlikely given their history.

Not to mention the fact that, call it what you like, what we are talking about is kidnapping and ransom. Posner didn't do a very good job of explaining the Barbary Wars. Tribute didn't work (and we tried REAL hard)- the war was FINALLY declared because the pirates weren't living up to their end of the bargain- which by the way was amounting to something like 20% of all American govenment spending at the time (not to mention our loss of prestige in the world which was emboldened England against us since we demonstrably had no navy worth speaking of). And why should they have? If you have all the cards and you think your victim is too weak to stop you, keep upping the ante. That's exactly what happened.

The better question is why WON'T an attempt at bribery end up like the Barbary affair did.

Like I said- this problem is getting worse. Going forward under the assumption that it will stabilize doesn't sound like much of a plan. More like hope.
4.13.2009 11:47am
Oren:

Except that if they are deprived of their mother ships, they will lack the ability to get more, which is the point.

What makes you think they can't get more? They have $30 million to spend ...


we should gather a large force and simply scour the Somali coastline unloading the crews and burning every vessel we find, where we know they have to return to eventually, unloading the crews and burning every vessel we find. Then with a small number of ships we blockade the pirate towns and pick off any stragglers. Burning their docks will hamper them as well.

Because the pirates will have new ships within days (cash + pickup truck + quick drive to Ethiopia). So you will have burned the ships of the innocent and guilty alike for no real gain.
4.13.2009 12:19pm
Mark Buehner (mail):

What makes you think they can't get more? They have $30 million to spend

I'm sure they can buy more, how can they get them to their docks? Not to mention that monitoring and intercepting the purchase of a ship is quite a bit less difficult than searching for speedboats across thousands of miles of ocean.

Moreover- would you be eager to spend your 30 million dollars on an investment likely to be sent to the bottom of the ocean courtesy of the US navy? That's the point, we could rapidly make it both physically _and_ economically ill advised to engage in piracy. There is one big capital investment in this game and we can go find and destroy them.

Because the pirates will have new ships within days (cash + pickup truck + quick drive to Ethiopia). So you will have burned the ships of the innocent and guilty alike for no real gain.

Oren, I don't think you are understanding what a mother-ship is. Its not a speed boat, you can't put it in a pick-up truck. Its a real ship, with a hull, big enough to hold a number of speedboats. It would need to be bought somewhere for a relatively sizeable amount of money and sailed to a dock. We can prevent that from happening, or at least sink enough in the attempt to make it economically risky.
4.13.2009 12:25pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
pireader asks: '—those countries have no material interest at stake. . . .
What am I missing?'

The principal of freedom of the seas, which used to be important in the American scheme of things. We fought a war over it in 1812-15 that was far, far more expensive, relatively, than whatever it would take to expunge the Somali pirates.ns

Also, if governments have any duty at all, it is to provide protection to their citizens going about on lawful purposes.

Zarkov is correct about why pirates (and in some similar cases, brigands) were treated as special cases in the law. The police cannot be everywhere, and the writ of the law cannot extend everywhere. The law of the jungle then kicks in, and properly, too.

If you are going to do anything about piracy, you have to eliminate the bases. You can no more catch every pirate at sea than you can catch every fish.
4.13.2009 2:32pm
Oren:

It would need to be bought somewhere for a relatively sizeable amount of money and sailed to a dock. We can prevent that from happening, or at least sink enough in the attempt to make it economically risky.

Most of the motherships are actually fishing trawelers that have been commandeered by the pirates. Easy enough to lash a few speed boats to the side of a trawler and cruise around all week.
4.13.2009 3:53pm
Mark Buehner (mail):

Most of the motherships are actually fishing trawelers that have been commandeered by the pirates. Easy enough to lash a few speed boats to the side of a trawler and cruise around all week.

Fishing trawlers with speed boats lashed to them aren't hard to find. Especially if you have already cleared the territorial waters of the 'chaff'. Satellites certainly don't hurt.

And fishing trawlers are still decent sized ships- you can't pull them ashore and hide them in a shed (at least not easily enough to make it a habit). If they are small and easy to hide, their range will be limited. If they are large and can strike out far into the ocean, they are difficult to hide.

The point being- if you concentrate on the mother-ship issue you immediately limit the range of the pirates, which allows ships to sail around the danger points as well as giving warships a smaller area to look for them in.

We could deal the pirates a big blow almost instantly by dropping cement payload smart bombs onto every sizeable ship docked in Somalia- punch holes in their decks and very few fatalities (no explosions). Any ship that tries to dock gets the same treatment, and then go about clearing the territorial waters of any shipping.
4.13.2009 4:04pm
Foobar:
Why wouldn't daily convoys of shipping vessels protected by armed navy ships work?

Is it a matter of slowing down shipping to the point of unprofitability?
4.13.2009 4:29pm
Foobar:
Also, why can't the navies blockade the ports these pirates operate out of?
4.13.2009 4:51pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
Point 2: they can, they choose not to.

Point 1: its too expensive in time and resources. This it the most trafficked sea lane in the world, hundreds if not thousands of ship travel it daily. Moreover the range of the pirates expands all the time (as the size of the ships they steal increases). Unless we intend to form WW2 era protocols for commerce indefinitely, its just not a viable solution.

Which is ultimately why reactive measures are doomed to fail (much less essentially going to a tribute scheme). The easier and more profitable this behavior becomes, the more likely it will spread to other nations and regions. Worst of all we could get some tail wagging the dog action if piracy in fragile but solvent nations leads to turbulence or collapse of governments as armed groups gain resources through plunder.
4.13.2009 5:28pm
LarryA (mail) (www):
I can't think of any that one could deploy against a ship from a range much greater than 2,000 yards. I don't think the technology exists.
I was responding to the "beyond AK-47 range" idea with something that would damage a ship hull or a shipping container. I probably shouldn't have limited it to "shoulder-launched." Specifically I was thinking back to my foxhole time, c 1970s, and the TOW missile variants. Effective range 3,750 meters. Allegedly Iran is currently manufacturing a version, the Toophan. They weren't terribly difficult for infantry privates to hit with.
Many of the biggest tankers in the world are capable of sustained speeds of > 60 knots (rough calculation for most boats: approx max speed in knots = 1.3 * square root of hull length in feet).v
You don't have to catch up to it if you start out ahead. Sixty knots is impressive, but you're still shooting at something the size of a skyscraper that has no hope of evasive action. The TOW is designed to hit a tank moving near that speed.
4.13.2009 7:12pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
No large ships go 60 kts. Even if the hull shape allowed it, the propulsion system would need to be gigantic.

Most merchant vessels can make 20 knts or a little more. A very few very large cruise ships are designed for 25 knts or so.
4.14.2009 8:28am

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