Thursday, April 09, 2009

Solving piracy 

Herschel Smith at Captain's Journal has some thoughts on dealing with piracy. His observations about the legal issues are spot on, and could actually use some elaboration. The lawyers have really twisted up the knickers of the Royal Navy, for example, one organization with more than enough pirate-exterminating lore in its institutional DNA. The problem is, until you actually have evidence that probable pirates have done something illegal you cannot kill them, detain them, or render them to their home country (which act would be a violation of international law in the case of Somalia and most other pirate havens). The result is that as a practical matter the lawyers say that you have to wait until pirates attack. Without some shooting on a hunch, therefore, the only defenses are deterrence (which depends on retaliation out of proportion with the pirate attack -- hence my recommendation yesterday) and interdiction (which requires a military escort or arming the merchant marine). Since interdiction is extremely costly and offensive -- why should any country permit these clowns to tie up its navy indefinitely on escort missions? -- that really leaves deterrence.

Basically, deterrence requires disproportionate retaliation: You touch an American flag, not only do we shoot at you but we bomb anybody who might know you, might have given your ship a berth, and might have protected or supported you in any way. Emphasis on might. If we do that effectively we will no doubt kill a few innocents (as always happens in even the most careful irregular war), but the community of pirates and their backers and beneficiaries will thereafter leave our ships alone and discipline each other should any one crazy pirate scheme to put them at risk of another such reliatory attack.


By Anonymous Nancy, at Thu Apr 09, 07:52:00 AM:

Automatic weapons. And a couple of guys on the ship who know how to use them. You see these A-holes coming in their little boat. Sink em, shoot em, whatever. One of these bastards starts trying to come up on board with his grapple hook -- lean over and put a hole (or several) in his head. Repeat as necessary.

This is a war. Why not fight it like one?  

By Anonymous MAS1916, at Thu Apr 09, 10:00:00 AM:

Obama has a lot to worry about here. Since he took responsibility for the self-esteem of every nation on earth except America, he can't just go in and save the ship and it's captain. It would make other nations who are trying to negotiate the safe release of their ships - look bad.

At least Hillary came out and called the incident "Deeply Concerning." That is certain to give other crews confidence that the US government will be there to help if pirates attack them.

Come to think of it, BO and HRC are great reasons to start shooting when these guys appear on the horizon. Crews need to be armed.  

By Blogger TOF, at Thu Apr 09, 10:11:00 AM:

I don't want lawyers determining my fate -- or course of action --when a existential threat looms. These characters are operating from one or more mother ships; they can't just cruise the seas in Zodiac boats looking for prey.

You do like the armed merchant men of the past have done: you set yourself up to look like a big fat target and then hit them when they come in. However, you let enough of them escape so that they can lead you back to their mother ship. And then you sink that.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 09, 10:14:00 AM:

Relying on governments may not work well in this instance. The law of salvage value, time tested and well litigated, may be the ultimate solution. If there are Blackwater types willing to swim up to these ships in the dead of night, climb the sides while they're being held, imprison the priates or throw them to their dooms in the ocean, and then pilot the ships plus their cargos back into a safe port, they might well have strong salvage claims. Of course, the lefties would go crazy at the thought individuals would act on their own...  

By Anonymous JT, at Thu Apr 09, 10:58:00 AM:

I'm with Nancy on this. When I read this, I asked why the companies don't hire 'retired SEAL teams'. Using active military is a waste of manpower, inappropriate on a number of fronts, and mostly just impractical. There are, however, huge numbers of retired military types who are bad mo-fos, and would likely be quite satisfied making big dough to protect these types of vessals.

And as a practical matter, one wonders why the ship captains and crew don't pack some heat themselves. Hell, let the lead fly, and use the hose to wash up after tossing the dead overboard. Sharks need food too.

In my view, this remains simply one more datapoint of small time operators testing the resolve of our CIC, and seeing just how far we're willing to go to get square. What's coming? another attack on our soil? we're already weakened financially, and our way of life is clearly threatened with a weak dollar, bankrupt state, federal and municipal institutions and challenges in finding foreign suckers to lend us more. How hard to really rock us to the core? could a few pissants do it, or would it take another 911?

Obama needs to get chernobyl here, starting with a chat with the governments who enable this stuff. Perhaps an erroneous drop of a bomb or two ala Moammar so many years ago. Oh, did we do that ... hell, so sorry, but while we're chatting, what's up with tugging on Superman's cape, anyway?  

By Blogger Diogenes, at Thu Apr 09, 11:37:00 AM:

We need Ronald Reagan's approach to Libyan terror. (From Wikipedia)

In March 1986, the United States, asserting the 12-nautical-mile (22 km; 14 mi) limit to territorial waters recognized by the international community, sent a carrier task force to the region. Libya responded with aggressive counter-maneuvers on March 24 that led to the destruction of Libyan radar systems and missile attack boats.

Following subsequent Libyan-back bombing of a German nightclub:

Ronald Reagan ordered the strike on Libya on April 14. Eighteen F-111F strike aircraft of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, flying from RAF Lakenheath supported by four EF-111A Ravens of the 20th Tactical Fighter Wing, from RAF Upper Heyford in England, in conjunction with twenty-seven A-6, A-7, and F/A-18 attack aircraft from the aircraft carriers USS Saratoga, USS America and USS Coral Sea on station in the Gulf of Sidra struck five targets at 02:00 on April 15, in the stated objective that their destruction would send a message and reduce Libya's ability to support and train terrorists.... When asked to comment about the near miss of the French Embassy, President Reagan reportedly quipped, "Well, the boys were tired!  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 09, 12:42:00 PM:

These crews can not pack heat themselves because of their cargo in some instances.

For example, the Saudi Supertanker that was hijacked by pirates a few months ago. A ship filled with fuel has toxic gas fumes all around it. If a passenger on the ship carrying a gun were to fire on a pirate attempting to take the ship, there is a very good chance that the blast from the gun could spark the fumes and ignite the entire ship, killing the entire crew and Millions worth of fuel.

Also, there is the question of what happens once an armed conflict begins. The people working on the ships are not military, so they may not be trained to carry weapons and use them effectively. An unqualified gun totter is more dangerous than Pirates trying to capture a ship. I have not heard of Pirates killing or harming any crews they have taken ships from.

Unfortunately, the only answer is to follow the pirates back to their mothership or home base and destroy it, but as stated, the Lawyers are getting involved and Lawfare is currently the best weapon that the Pirates can employ.

There really is no good answer at the moment.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 09, 01:03:00 PM:

If a passenger on the ship carrying a gun were to fire on a pirate attempting to take the ship, there is a very good chance that the blast from the gun could spark the fumes and ignite the entire ship

No, not really, very few ships would ever be loaded like this. Things that are that unstable are not normally transported in such a manor. If they were, they would not be allowed into port.

. The people working on the ships are not military, so they may not be trained to carry weapons and use them effectively. An unqualified gun totter is more dangerous than Pirates trying to capture a ship.

So crews can be trained to navagate the ship, fight fires, combat flooding and operate an assortment of complex tools, but would be to confused with basic weapons training?  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Thu Apr 09, 01:42:00 PM:

The US has signed, but not ratified, The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which governs all sorts of maritime things, including the handling of piracy. Back before it was a failed state, Somalia did. Turkey, Syria and Israel are among those which have never signed it.  

By Blogger joated, at Thu Apr 09, 02:38:00 PM:

I like your plan, TH. Right now, piracy IS the economy of Somalia. Here's mine:
1-Pick one port.
2-Blow it to smithereens.
3-Let it be known that you expect the pirates to be handed over at such and such a time and place (less than one week from the destruction of above port) and that if they are not, or should attacks upon any ship take place, then a second port (unnamed) will be destroyed.
4-Repeat until the pirates are produced and the piracy stops.
5-Let it be known that the next time any ship is taken on the high seas, the process will be repeated.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Apr 09, 04:00:00 PM:

For some reason govenments are not acting.

Perhaps they believe they can employ the noblest concepts of law without the costs - which are not only financial - of policing.

Or do they expect to frighten criminals with harsh words spoken in pleasant diplomatic venues.

They want a magical process to suppress these groups of armed and ruthless bandits without combat or casualties or destruction of property.

While piracy has increased year after year, our leaders still insist failed tactics are the only correct tactics.

Either people are going to be killed or this piracy will continue. Some of those killed will be innocents who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is how it is.

The alternative is more of the same.

While I am not much impressed by formal psychology this seems to be an example of positive reinforcement.

For a long time the pirates have gained rewards with little risk or cost. We can expect them to doggedly keeping trying even after several failures.

So military action short of massive extermination will not quickly stop the Somali pirates. And mass extermination is not going to be employed.

However the alternative is not do do nothing or continue tactics that do not work.

It is to militarily suppress piracy and hurt pirates until they see no reason to continue.

That will not get done without a substantial international fleet on patrol with orders to act.

That won't get done by lecturing naval officers about the 1500 legal reasons they must be sure of criminal intent before firing. Or reminding them how any error can land them in some international criminal court.


By Blogger Unknown, at Fri Apr 10, 03:06:00 AM:

It is hard for me to discuss the pirates in the serious and thoughtful manner of this blog, because all I can think of is:

"I'm sure they'll listen to reason".

(Yes, there is a point to that comment--spot the reference and win 5 points towards the coveted Geek of the Week award!)


By Anonymous Daran, at Fri Apr 10, 06:10:00 AM:

The left has a policy of disarming the population. Allowing ship crews to carry weapons would send the wrong message, i.e. that it is okay to defend yourself.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Apr 12, 01:08:00 AM:

render them to their home country (which act would be a violation of international law in the case of Somalia and most other pirate havens)

I find it amusing that this is the case, considering that all Islamic piracy has the official or unofficial backing of the government, making the threat of substantive criminal punishment, including execution, moot. As such, we must render them to their home country if we aren't going to have summary field executions.  

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