The Navy, and the Pentagon in general, has been generally silent about the recent brazen acts of piracy off the Somali coast. The Coast Guard has come out swinging.
Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said Wednesday in his official Coast Guard blog that he believes piracy is "an insult to civilization" and called for more action against pirates. "It is a vexing problem, but one that must be solved," he said.
In his blog, Allen argues that the biggest problem isn't stopping the pirates from taking over ships, but the ability to punish them once they are caught. "Somali-based piracy is flourishing because it is profitable and nearly consequence-free due to the lack of governance and a judicial system in Somalia," he noted.
To help curb the problem, the international community must focus not only on stopping the pirates at sea but on punishing them once they are caught. "Mutually agreed upon procedures for this must be established before an event occurs -- trying to finalize policy during an international incident is a recipe for confusion and failure. This is very similar to counterdrug operations that take place pursuant to international agreements that allow for the prosecution of those involved," the admiral wrote.
To be fair, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Nov. 19 that the international community needed to come up with a way to try and punish pirates and not just focus on blowing them out of the water. But Morrell's comments left the impression that the US wasn't quite sure what to do and was frustrated by the difficult operational and legal issues the Somali pirates raise. Allen's blog provides a pretty clear and unambiguous approach -- and tone.
In his blog, Allen points to UN resolution 1846 passed on Dec. 2. This provides a legal basis for 78 percent of the world's governments to turn pirates over to a coastal government which is then "obliged to accept custody and extradite or prosecute unless" it can explain why the UN resolution does not apply, he said.
Allen goes on to say that this resolution, along with existing international law, "provides an effective legal framework." He said the Coast Guard has been working the interagency process for months to help get this passed and it is, he says, "a step in the right direction."
Allen clearly has his eye on the wider world as he calls for more legal action against piracy. For example, the European Union is deploying an anti-piracy flotilla on Dec. 10, the first time the EU has ever engaged in a sea-going military mission. Stopping the pirates dead in their tracks is appealing, but the risk of punishment would seem likely to curb their predilection for flouting the laws of the sea. And if they stay home or stick to fishing, then the world would have no need to shoot them dead or disrupt global trade.