Issue #69

Last Update October 31, 2010

International Somali Piracy by Sten Grynir November 20, 2008   Somali pirates have been working overtime to make shipping through the Gulf of Aden and down the Eastern coast of Africa insecure.By boarding freighters and tankers and holding their crews and cargo hostage, the Somali pirates have bolstered the economy of their province. The shipping nations (those under whose flags the ships sail, and those who actually own the vessels) have not been able to bring this criminal activity to a stop. Even the presence of US and Russian warships has not deterred the pirates from operating openly. Now, in the ultimate act of outsourcing, the Indian navy has taken a hand, and with the usual Indian efficiency, seems to have sunk a fishing vessel that was itself hijacked. Wasn't this why the US Marines were formed? What happened to the shores of Tripoly?

A look at a map shows immediately the vulnerability of commercial shipping in the area. The Horn of Somalia acts as a natural choke point for shipping passing through the Suez canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. The jagged coastline along the Horn and below it provide shelter for the small ships that prey on the merchentmen. There is no effective Somali national government that can be pressured into stopping piracy by domestic efforts. Nevertheless, putting an end to Somali piracy should not be all that difficult, without destroying impoverished villages.

The number of ships passing through those waters is not enormous. If the US and its allies had any sense, they would station a number of helicopter carriers along the shipping routes. One helicopter could be assigned to shadow each merchant ship, with handoffs to other carriers along the way. It can be announced to the world, and especially to the Somalis, that no vessel is permitted to approach within one half-mile of these ships, and that any vessel of any size doing so will be destroyed. Helicopter-carried missiles and the machine guns and cannon carried by helicopter gunships should be sufficient to take out the small and medium sized craft used by the pirates. Any aircraft can outrun any ship, so once a craft has been identified as hostile, it is doomed. The destruction of a few of these craft should get the message across.

Should any merchant ship (or pleasure yacht) be captured despite these precautions, a team of Navy Seals from the nearest helicopter carrier can be assigned to board the captured ship under cover of night, cripple the ship's drive to prevent it from being taken close to shore,  and dispatch the pirates. Approaching from under water should render them invisible until boarding time.

As a last resort, Marine landing parties could be sent to destroy the small craft and their support facilities at their home bases.

The cost of these operations could be at least partially defrayed by an escort fee assessed to the merchant ship. If the escort fee is significantly lower than the costs involved in rerouting shipping around Africa to avoid the Suez Canal, the shipping companies should be happy to pay it.

We knew how to deal with pirates in the early days of our nation. Why have we forgotten?

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