Tuesday, April 6, 2010

6 April 2010 One good thing about sailing ships

6 April 2010 One good thing about sailing ships

They have convenient masts and spars for dealing with pirates.

“Pirates captured the South Korean tanker Sunday about 690 miles (1,111 km) north of the Somali coast. News of the attack came as the Combined Maritime Forces -- a cooperative effort by several countries to patrol international waters -- warned that pirates in the Somali basin and Gulf of Aden are venturing farther from home waters to target commercial vessels.”


One of the first international problems which President Obama has had to deal with was the hijacking of a U.S. flagged cargo vessel Maersk Alabama and the kidnapping of its crew by Somali pirates. Despite GOP and other opinion that Obama would be soft on piracy, he authorized a SEAL team to kill the pirates and free the ship and crew.

Last week a pirate skiff chose to attack a U.S. Navy frigate. I fail to understand how the skiff’s occupants believed that they could attack and capture a U.S. man-of-war. Their skiff and their mother vessel were both destroyed. Our navy rescued the pirates from drowning and they will be delivered for trial.

Piracy has always been a problem in the Indian Ocean. With every successful hijacking the risk to commercial vessels becomes greater. The current practice of rescuing any pirates defeated by naval vessels on patrol in Somali and surrounding waters removes one of the major reasons to avoid becoming a pirate. In previous times, naval vessels were authorized to try and condemn any pirates captured in the act, and to carry out the appropriate sentence immediately. While such harsh punishment did not stop piracy, it did prevent some pirates from repeating their crimes.

Today’s current rules of engagement allow failed or foiled pirates to return to their home or their base of operations without fear of reprisal or severe punishment. Many of those apprehended and brought to trial receive only the lightest of punishment, limited incarceration. Others are simply released by local courts. The immense fortunes to be made by demanding ransom for captured sailors and captured ships by far overshadows any fear of punishment for today’s IO pirates.

In my opinion, it is time to return to the practice of gun deck courts-martial for those captured committing piracy. There is no reason that ships under attack can’t video tape at least some part of the attack so as to provide evidence for courts-martial. Such tapes, along with facial recognition software could be used by the various naval vessels assigned to anti-piracy task groups. While many people may object to harsh and final sentences for pirates, there is no reason to treat them any other way. They place commercial and naval vessels and their crews in jeopardy, run great risk of polluting large areas of ocean if they penetrate the hull plates of their targets and spill oil or other toxic materials into the ocean. There is no redeeming social value to piracy and no reason to preserve the lives of anyone caught in the act.

It is also time for the major navies of the world to implement a convoy system in order to protect private and commercial vessels and their crews from harm. Those areas deemed high risk for piracy should be blockaded and traffic allowed through only under naval escort. Such action will be expensive, require international naval cooperation, and will not be popular with commercial cargo fleets. Since the frequency of piracy in Somali waters is increasing and the threat of harm to individuals is also increasing, it is time to realize that the civilized world is at war with the pirates of the Somali waters. This is not a war with Somalia, but with pirates, men who have abandoned civilization for private gain, and who are now citizens of no nation. As such, they have no right to plea for help or compassion when they are captured.

Naval vessels in WWII often painted symbols on their hulls indicating how many enemy ships they had sunk. It may be time for modern naval craft to paint hangman’s nooses on their hulls.

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