More Pirate Activity

Over the last several hours pirates have attacked a US freighter on the way to Mombasa (carrying humanitarian aid). These pirates did not use the usual method of operation. Rather, they ran at the ship with guns blazing and fired rocket propelled grenades right away. The bridge of the ship was apparently badly damaged but none of the crew were hurt.

The US Navy is bearing down on the situation, and have placed armed seamen on board the freighter. The same destroyer that currently is carrying the recently freed US captain is now escorting the freighter to its port.

Elsewhere, news sources are reporting that an additional fifty hostages have been taken by pirates in the region.

Comments

  1. #1 Jackal
    April 15, 2009

    Oh good, a blood feud. Just what we wanted.

  2. #2 Sigmund
    April 15, 2009

    The bbc is reporting that these particular pirates have been picked up by a French warship.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8000447.stm

  3. #3 Jason
    April 15, 2009

    I am extremely liberal and military-force-as-a-last-resort is a cornerstone belief. Having said that, are you guys serious? This is not blind American aggression or upping the ante. Pirates. Men with rocket launchers and machine guns are taking over nonmilitary unarmed vessels. You propose it’s okay and we should keep bribing them so they only kill a few people? I’m not saying the the international community is not partly responsible for the situation in Somalia. I’m not saying nonviolent actions should not be included. But to criticize US and French militaries for trying to save civilian sailors, and to claim it escalates the violence ignores the mounting violence that has been on-going prior to this week. If anything, paying off pirates has created countless more pirates and escalated the situation. Hostage taking, brutal beatings, and violence is okay as long as you don’t come in shooting? What?

  4. #4 Russell
    April 15, 2009

    I wonder if the current problem with piracy is causing any British regret that it eliminated capital punishment for that crime ten years ago.

  5. #5 Jackal
    April 15, 2009

    Jason, you just assumed Greg’s and my intentions. I’m not saying we should be paying ransoms. We had the chance to get our US hostage back without paying or killing. Had we done so, the incedent might have served as a disincentive to attacking US ships since there was no financial gain and one pirate was caputred. Instead, we refused their offer and killed 3 pirates. Now it looks like they’re just out for revenge. Rather than trying to board and ask for money, they’re launching morders at our ships. I prefer the first – those efforts can be thrwarted with fire hoses. Now we’ll need to be able to sink their boats before they get within mortor range.

  6. #6 Sigmund
    April 15, 2009

    Russell, I seriously doubt that there is any chance that capital punishment for acts of piracy will even cross the minds of the British authorities. Capital punishment hasn’t happened for any crime in the UK for over fifty years and I don’t see how the current piracy situation is so much worse than the IRA campaign, the Islamic terrorist threats or other such cases.

  7. #7 Period9
    April 15, 2009

    “morders” and “mortor”

    Try “mortar”

    Or did you mean Mordor? They are launching evil, fictional countries at the ships?

    Jason is correct. Some of you have an enabling attitude about the pirates.

    We had the chance to get our US hostage back without paying or killing.

    Bullcrap. The pirates pointed an AK-47 right at the back of Captain Phillips’ head AFTER shots were fired FROM the lifeboat, so the Navy made the call. You people who Monday morning quarterback with tense, dangerous situations are really the worst sort of bloody fool.

  8. #8 Andrew
    April 15, 2009

    Please make your predicate and subject agree. Fools.

  9. #9 Russell
    April 15, 2009

    I suppose you’re right, Sigmund. But did you know that the death penalty remained on the books for treason and piracy until 1998?

  10. #10 Sigmund
    April 15, 2009

    It wouldn’t surprise me Russell. In fact I’m almost certain that the death penalty remains on the UK law books for certain crimes even today (I think killing the monarch is likely still a capital offense). It’s just that society in Europe has moved on from those days and doesn’t now regard execution as a useful penal option.

  11. #11 Virgil Samms
    April 15, 2009

    Jason, you just assumed Greg’s and my intentions. I’m not saying we should be paying ransoms. We had the chance to get our US hostage back without paying or killing. Had we done so, the incedent might have served as a disincentive to attacking US ships since there was no financial gain and one pirate was caputred. Instead, we refused their offer and killed 3 pirates.

    This defies every report I have read of the situation. Please provide evidence that the pirates in that incident would have agreed to give up their hostage without receiving a ransom.

  12. #12 Glenn Houck
    April 15, 2009

    I understand that commercial shipping is not allowed to carry weapons on board because they will not be able to dock in countries that do now allow weapons.
    Why not put security people on board with automatic weapons and when they want to dock in a country that does not allow weapons just dump them overboard. The cost of replacing a few automatic weapons is far less that the ransoms demanded by these thugs.

  13. #13 sailor
    April 15, 2009

    “This defies every report I have read of the situation.”
    Many news report stated that talks broke down because the US would not agree to the pirates going free.

  14. #14 Virgil Samms
    April 15, 2009

    Many news report stated that talks broke down because the US would not agree to the pirates going free.

    I asked for support of the claim that the pirates had offered to turn over Williams without receiving a ransom. Request not met.

  15. #15 Jackal
    April 15, 2009

    From the NYTimes:

    On Saturday, a group of Somali elders from Gara’ad, mediating on behalf of the pirates, spoke by satellite phone to American officials, according to Abdul Aziz Aw Mahamoud, a district commissioner in the semiautonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia. The elders proposed a deal in which the pirates would release Captain Phillips, with no ransom paid, and that the pirates would then be allowed to escape.

    But Mr. Abdul Aziz said that the Americans insisted that the pirates be handed over to Puntland authorities, and the elders refused. By noon local time, the Americans cut off communications with the elders, he said.

  16. #16 Porter
    April 15, 2009

    according to Abdul Aziz Aw Mahamoud, a district commissioner in the semiautonomous region of Puntland in northeastern Somalia.

    Oh, well, there you go then! (eye roll)

    But Mr. Abdul Aziz said that the Americans insisted that the pirates be handed over to Puntland authorities, and the elders refused.

    Oh noes! Teh eVil Mericans didn’t want the pirates to just waltz away without consequences? HOW DARE THEY!!!!!!

  17. #17 Stephanie Z
    April 15, 2009

    And the consequences have worked so well to deter piracy in the region, right, Porter? Or were the consequences to the pirates just to make us feel more potent and fuck the rippling consequences to anyone else? It matters much less what we want than what will work to fix the problem, or it does if we’re past kindergarten.

  18. #18 Virgil Samms
    April 15, 2009

    And the consequences have worked so well to deter piracy in the region, right, Porter?

    The consequences over the last 4 days? I should hope our foreign policy has a longer view than that.

  19. #19 Troublesome Frog
    April 15, 2009

    Stephanie Z,

    Am I understanding that you’re proposing the following payoff schedule as a piracy deterrent:

    Try to take a ship and succeed: Millions of dollars
    Get caught: Go back and try again, no penalty

    So far, that’s what the payoff schedule has been, and it seems that piracy has gotten out of control in the region.

    I’m all for trying to get everybody out alive, but I think that we’re placing far too much emphasis on the safety and happiness of the offending party. We have allowed the pirates to get a truly warped view of how the world works and their position to make demands. That view needs to be brought back in line with reality. Negotiations don’t work if one side honestly believes they’re holding all the cards.

  20. #20 Stephanie Z
    April 15, 2009

    Virgil, that would be nice, but considering that our policy on this seems to have started four days ago and ignores everything that happened before that, I’m not holding out hope.

    Frog, that’s true for both parties. However, it’s also true that the side that has nothing to lose and no way out has no incentive to change. It has nothing to do with the pirates’ happiness and everything to do with leaving them enough chips that they’re willing to play. When was the last time you heard about a hostage situation where those in authority refused to negotiate or were unwilling to make any concessions? If you’re going to use a poker analogy, try reading up on game theory.

  21. #21 Art
    April 15, 2009

    As I understand it the main obstacle to placing armed teams on commercial shipping is not the law so much as the large shipping companies and corporations that control them. These guys are bean counters and as far as they are concerned paying ransoms is just another cost of doing business. A cost that is rolled into the cost of shipping, negotiated with their insurance carriers, deducted from taxes, and something that can be statistically accounted for. According to a guy on TV last night the separate insurance rider for payment of ransom runs about $35,000 to $50,000 a trip. Crews are cheap and paying them the extra two months, average time it has taken to negotiate a ransom, is not a major concern.

    What gets me is that these are not disorganized, starving fishermen who are desperate to feed their families and who have taken up piracy as a desperate stopgap measure. This is big business. A commercial operation undertaken by warlords and major businessmen for millions of dollars. One report noted that the mother ship had a complete array of radios and scanners and was reporting to other mother ships and shore to keep track of enforcement efforts and potential targets. This is similar to how German wolf packs operated in WW2. Difference being they sank the ships instead of ransoming them. When ransom was paid the pirates called in the straw boss to divvy up the loot and he brings commercial counting machines.

    I suspect that some combination of armed escort vessels, armed teams on board commercial vessels and grouping (if not actual convoying) of ships would go a long way to controlling the problem.

    A weak point in their operations are the mother ships which aren’t fast or maneuverable enough to use to board the commercial vessels. Eliminate the mother ship and the small boats are stuck. They don’t have the fuel of sea keeping capabilities to make it the several hundred miles back to shore. I give you odds they lack food, water, and alternative propulsion. Once their fuel is gone they can only pray the wind blows them ashore before they die of thirst. Makes capture look good.

    I also think that people underestimate just how much of an advantage an armed party on a large vessel has against small boats. Shooting from a small boat trying to keep up with a ship doing 25 knots, ~29 mph, is not easy. Generally they hit the ship only because it is a very large target. Their ability to shoot a human sized target, assuming someone were to stand out in the open, is quite limited. In comparison a guy with a gun on the ship is standing on a well armored and quite stable structure.

    Assuming the small boats can get close they still have to scale a sheer wall of steel 20′ to 40′ high. Usually by tossing a grappling hook until it catches and climbing up. This done, again, at 25 knots and fighting the waves and wake. As the saying goes, an old lady with a broom could stop them. Pirates are brave even when not facing any opposition. Trying that maneuver with a couple of armed guys shooting at you, foolishness verging on suicide.

    This is pretty simple stuff. We had the same issues back in the 1700s. In the same area. Back then it was known as the Barbary coast and the pirates, Barbary pirates, naturally. The US Navy and Marines cut their teeth fighting the Barbary pirates off the north coast of Africa.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    April 15, 2009

    The horn of Africa is not the Barbary coast. Totally different place.

  23. #23 Troublesome Frog
    April 15, 2009

    I’m afraid I’m not seeing the game theory application that you’re seeing, Stephanie. This would be a different situation if they had enumerable political goals that they’re willing to die for, but this seems to be a profit-driven enterprise. Unless you’re dealing with people who consider their lives and boats valueless, “nothing to lose” doesn’t come into play.

    I’m not proposing a “no negotiations” policy. I’m just suggesting that making concessions when it’s not necessary is a bad strategy. So far, all it has gotten us is a (very) large population of pirates who think that their demands will always be met and that if they aren’t, a little bit of escalation will do the trick. In this case, it’s pretty obvious that no concessions were necessary.

    If it comes to an all-out armed conflict, the pirates are outmatched. Their perceived incentive to escalate the conflict seems to be based on the idea that the Navy doesn’t realize this or won’t bother to act on it. We’re not going to go anywhere until they stop believing that.

  24. #24 Anne Gilbert
    April 16, 2009

    I’ve been following this Somalian piracy story with some interest. And I think the entire situation is more complex than anybody here seems to assume. One big factor is, that Somalia has no functioning, effective government whatsoever. This results in several things: first, assuming the stories about Europeans dumping toxic waste and overfishing Somalian waters are true, there is nothing the Somalians themselves can do about it. What flows from that is, the people there have organized themselves to “take care of the problem”. That’s one reading, at least. And there are plenty of desperately poor, unemployed young men there,who are willing to join swuch a crew. And yes,some of these pirates have grown quite rich; taking entire ships hostage and demanding ransom is a very lucrative business. So, the way I see it, we have to get to the root of the problem(or roots). One big step would be to encourage, any way we can, some sort of effective central government in Somalia,which would go a long way to helping solve this problem.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    April 16, 2009

    Anne, I completely agree. The problem with encouraging an effective central government in Somalia is two fold:

    1) Culturally and socially, it is almost impossible because, according to at least one very smart guy I heard on the radio yesterday, unsupported by anything in the social or cultural fabric. I can believe this for various historical reasons. This does not really make it impossible, but difficult.

    2) The kinds of governments that seem to start to congeal, in the eyes of mainstream Western politicians and foreign affairs officers, is undesirable to the West. It is like Hamas forming up in Palestine: An undesirable result if you’re George Bush or Tony Blaire. In other words, the West has been undermining the forming up of an Islamic state in Somalia.

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