Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Not Storm the Ships?

After my MSNBC and NPR appearance (yes, a shameless self-promoting plug!) to discuss Somali piracy, I've gotten some queries as to why the U.S. and/or other Navies don't just retake hijacked ships by force. Well, there's a good economic reason why, for the last number of years, companies have preferred to pay ransom. Generally, companies prefer getting their ship and cargo back in one piece rather than risk destruction--and because the pirates, as of yet, don't seek to kill the crews (although there have been accidental deaths from bullet wounds during the initial takeover and a sailor on the Ukrainian vessel that was seized in September had a coronary)--there is no sense that the captured sailors are in imminent danger of death.

When it comes to the SS Faina and the MV Sirius Star (the arms ship and the oil tanker, respectively)--there are also environmental concerns. Especially with the oil tanker, no one wants a major oil spill contaminating the Red Sea and/or Gulf of Aden, or to have the ship vent oil and then to have it ignited. So the strategy is one of patience, at this point.

Going ashore to attack the pirate haven itself? Politicians will have to decide if they want to commit ground and air forces for such an assault.

It is interesting to note that the historical comparison with the Barbary Pirates gives us both models--force and accommodation. President Washington, for instance, did negotiate tribute arrangements to protect American shipping. Even after the "shores of Tripoli" incident, the U.S. would alternate between using the stick and the carrot.

There has been some interesting discussion about the possible applicability of the Petraeus model--an approach to tribal elders in the coastal villages about forming "sons of Somalia" groups that might be paid to act as "coastal security"--whether there might be impetus for such a move remains to be seen.

For accuracy, General Petreaus was not responsible for the Sons of Iraq movement. The Sunni Awakening and the Sons of Iraq came about before Petreaus was sent to Iraq as MNFI Commander. The Awakening movement was initiated by Colonel Sean MacFarland of the 1st Armor Division in Ramadi. (He's now a Brigadier General)
[i]although there have been accidental deaths from bullet wounds during the initial takeover[/i]

Oops! My bad, I was aiming for the wall next to you. Sorry for the accidental bullet wound!
Why don't they just string a little oil-catching cordon around the oil tanker? Then they can confine the spill to a very small area and prepare before hand for clean up?

At this point would Somali notice a short armed incursion that DIDN'T stick around to "rebuild" i.e. a purely search/destroy/punitive?

And what is Puntland saying about this? I understand some of pirate bases are there. Should we assist the Republic of Somaliland?
Actually, Shap, that is sort of what happens. The pirates fire to get attention and there have been deaths from bullets that bounce off walls or ceilings; or the panicked guy that doesn't understand what's going on. What Nik is right in saying is that the pirates don't board, then line up and shoot the sailors and dump them over the side.
Thanks, Anonymous 12:53, for the clarification.
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