Three outta Four Ain't Bad



Navy SEALS shot and killed 3 of the 4 pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips hostage. Other pirates active in the region were quoted as saying, The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing. We do not kill, but take only ransom. We shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now. Lets hope the pirates will follow through on their threat as doing so is apparently the only way to get the civilized world to find enough of their collective spine to deal with this issue.

The taking of the Maersk-Alabama may turn out to have been a strategic mistake for the pirates in the region. At least in the short run it seems to have brought unprecedented focus onto the piracy problem and could very well have been the final straw. I, like everyone, am so pleased that Mr. Phillips is alive and well. The courage and leadership he displayed in offering himself in exchange for the release of the crew is the stuff of legends and he is to be commended for multiple acts of heroism throughout this drama. Its hard to imagine a better outcome from an event that seemed so fraught with opportunities for disaster. The sole hostage now safely aboard a U.S. Navy ship, his crew and ship safely moored in a Kenyan port, 3 pirates dead and another in custody is what we call in the trade, a good day out.

And lets not miss the chance to acknowledge the work done here by the U.S. Navy. They showed that when on-scene they have the resources and training to accomplish a very difficult mission. Their insurmountable challenge is to be everywhere they are needed all the time and that, of course, is simply not possible.

But while we revel in our good fortune of getting the Captain back alive let us not take our eye off the ball and miss the larger point here. These pirates attacked the Maersk-Alabama with the full knowledge that it was flagged in the U.S. and likely would contain multiple American crew members. The pirates also knew that a ship carrying the name Maersk, the largest shipping carrier on the planet, would certainly be backed by a big insurance policy whose underwriter would, in time, make a large ransom payment.

Despite the dismal outcome for this group of pirates I suspect that had the pirate quoted above held his tongue on that last sentence he likely would continue to enjoy a lot of sympathy from a range of observers. It seems these days the pirates have more support from governments, ship owners, carriers, the military, insurance companies and most everyone else. Ah, the poor Somali pirate; he grew up in a war-torn country, all he ever wanted to be was a peaceful fisherman and spend his time ashore helping old ladies across the busy streets of Mogadishu.

Here is a trivia question for you: What is the one thing most Somalis would want more than anything? You guessed it, to leave Somalia. And what is one way many Somalis are leaving the country every day? Yep, on boats. So, it is pirates who get that chance to flea every single day. They could take their boats, load them with their families and go to any of a dozen neighboring countries just as many peaceful minded Somali refugees do every day. Just ask the Yemeni authorities how many Somali refugees are turning up on their shores every week. No these pirates are criminals by choice. For all the media condemnation against PMCs and the endless accusations of wide spread human rights violations by mercenaries where is the outrage against criminal pirates who openly admit that money is their sole motivation?

Ah, but these guys are only after the ransom. They dont intend to harm anyone. This is precisely the kind of argument you will repeatedly hear from our so-called leaders in New York and London. Of course they have never and will never have a loaded gun pointed at them. Certainly not one which is being held by a untrained, uneducated and likely drug induced criminal whose only concern is the money. No these brave and noble leaders will never be forced to live in the hot and stinking hold of a ship like animals for months on end. They will be forced to live in close proximity to theirs and their fellow captives excrement, vomit and urine. They wont be forced to subsist on the meager scraps of food left by their captors. But hey, thats no problem, dont worry, at the end of several months the ransom will probably be negotiated down to a fair price for your life and lives of your fellow crew members and youll be free to go! Never mind the 20 kilos you lost in body weight and the immeasurable psychological damage done to you, to say nothing of the fear and anxiety your family was forced to live through during your captivity. Nah mate, all they wanted was the money and thats all been paid up so the problem is sorted. Carry on...

There is of course some basic truth to the adage that money is the root of all evil. Well if not the money itself certainly the greedy pursuit of it. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with pursuing and amassing a fortune provided one follows the rules established by the laws of man along the way. However, when laws are broken, whether in the Gulf of Aden by pirates, by executives on Wall Street or bank robbers on Main Street a civilized society must enforce consequences that discourage future breaches of the law.

I really like this issue of piracy from a PMC perspective because it is a crystal clear example of the total failure of leadership, diplomacy and partnership by state actors primarily the United States but also the rest of the key players in the UN Security Council. The country of Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991 and the world has done very little in the way of dealing with this problem in any effective way. Whats more there is no real action being taken as we speak so there can be little hopes for improvement in the foreseeable future. In short, the world has moved on from Somalia and were it not for these pesky and annoying pirates no one in Washington or London would give a wit about it.

And if there is no attempt being made to deal with the root cause of the problem (Somalia as a failed state) the medicine being prescribed, namely military warships, is showing itself to be impotent in the extreme at preventing attacks. By their own admission the efforts placed in the Gulf of Aden have resulted in an increase in attacks off the eastern Somali coast.

There is only one solution to cure this disease and that is to fix Somalia. But that seems to be far too difficult for anyone to contemplate. So, if you cannot or will not deal with the cause of the disease you are left only to treat the symptoms and that is obviously to put enough firepower onto enough ships to raise the stakes of this game for the pirates.

Three-outta-four aint bad. If the next couple of gangs of pirates finds 75% of their lot killed and the remaining 25% in custody I am betting their calculations will change a bit. However, if we continue to feel sorry for these guys and turn a blind eye to the issue we are in effect reinforcing their business model and we cannot honestly be surprised when we find more of the same.

-- Jake Allen

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