If pirates do target Americans, that may mean their end

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The rescue of the American sea captain on Easter Sunday was a momentous win for the American military and the apparent revelation of a hard policy of not allowing the criminals of the world to steal money at their leisure.

The pirates now threaten to attack Americans in retaliation for the Navy’s action that resulted in the deaths of three pirates and the capture of one. The rest of the pirates should have learned from the action on Easter Sunday that retaliation may simply result in their own demise. They would be better advised to avoid ships flying American flags — and French flags, since that country also took deadly action over the weekend to rescue French hostages from pirates — and go after those who are willing simply to give them money to return hostages and ships.

However, the action by the United States Navy and the French Navy may actually be a signal that enough nations are tiring of the harassment by the these pirates that strong and deadly action may finally be taken.

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Already, though, there are the apologists saying that these pirates are simply poor fishermen retaliating against the world for depredating their fishing grounds. One person who has “visited” with the pirates and talked to them said on television Monday morning that the pirates come from small villages and are very young. What’s new? Most studies of piracy show that pirates always have been very young, and come mostly from small villages. Of course, there are always exceptions with some coming from the slums of large cities of the days in which piracy was fairly common. This person appeared sympathetic to the motives of the piracy, saying their fishing grounds had been destroyed by factory ships and so on.

Where they come from, their youth and other such factors have no bearing on the fact that these pirates are carrying deadly weapons and appear willing to use them to get their way. People willing to use deadly weapons to commit crimes aren’t worthy of pity.

However, once the pirates are suppressed, as they must be, some controls need to be put on fishing in the area to help the fishery recovery. This is a story that is true in many of the world’s fishing grounds and not just in the Indian Ocean. That effort isn’t just for the “poor fishermen” who may become pirates without fish to fish for, but for the world as a whole, actually.

Some of the prognosticators surveying the scene of the piracy and commenting on it say that in reality nothing can be done because of the size of the area in which the piracy occurs, more than 1 million square miles. Shipping lanes really are that, however, which reduces the area to be covered somewhat. However, there are two more effective strategies that could be used. One would reduce the number of targets, and the other would limit the ability of pirates to put to sea.

Convoys have proven effective over the years as a means of providing armed protection for unarmed merchant ships. I suspect it would be cheaper for shipping companies to delay ships from sailing from port to port until enough could be gathered in one place to make an effective convoy than it would be to pay the many millions of dollars in ransom that are now paid. We aren’t talking about preserving them from attacks designed to sink them, but attacks designed to take ships and crews as captives to be held hostage for ransom, which should make convoy duty simpler than it would be in wartime when sinking ships is the goal.

Another effective strategy would be to blockade the ports from which the pirates sail. Because their boats are so small, some probably would slip through and it would be difficult to blockade all the ports from which they sail, but there aren’t that many ports to which they can bring ships to be held for ransom, so that fact should help limit the size of the blockade.

Those strategies over time would become expensive for nations so a third strategy also would have to be employed at some point and that is military strikes against the village from which the pirates sail. That won’t be pretty and there will be those who wring their hands over the fates of the pirates, again referring to them as poor, simple fishermen with no place to fish because of the rape of the sea by the factory ships.

Again, there is some truth in that, but people who take up arms to steal don’t deserve sympathy. Crush them, then deal with the conditions that are said to be their reasons for turning to crime, both to give the survivors something other than crime as a means to make a living, and to preserve a vital resource — a thriving ocean fishery — for all of us.

This piracy is going to have to be faced head on or it will only grow in scope and violence. Hopefully, the actions of the U.S. and French navies over the weekend is the beginning of the rest of the world facing that hard reality.