Sunday, April 12, 2009

Effective Action Against Pirates

It was good to hear that the U.S. took strong and decisive action against the pirates holding Richard Phillips hostage, killing three, taking one prisoner, and releasing Phillips unharmed. Congratulations to the SEAL team involved, and to the administration. I may be wrong, but I'm assuming that such a rescue operation needed high-level authorization. If so, President Obama should be commended for having the leadership to make a difficult life & death decision, and for not paying the ransom.

The New York Times article linked above notes that pirates are still holding over 200 hostages. They also have a statement from a pirate saying that this action won't discourage them, and that they'll "take revenge" if they capture another American. This would be a great time for the U.S. to send some American-flagged Q-ships -- merchant-type vessels with concealed weapons and military crews -- into the area, in the hopes of enticing pirate attacks.  That way we could kill them as they attack, and avoid the legalistic problems that are otherwise crippling anti-piracy operations. The Q-ship approach is probably the best option to counter these pirates, given that we & other nations are unwilling to carry out the type of punitive measures that might neutralize piracy in the region.


  1. Indeed the president authorized it. I'm guessing the operation was only a go for when there was a very high chance of rescuing the hostage alive. It seems the hostage jumped overboard a second time to facilitate the rescue.

    The fourth pirate who's now prisoner apparently bailed from his comrades earlier and asked for asylum. He's 16 years old, possibly one of those soldier-slave boys.

    Modern pirates use motherships to take small speedboats out to the high seas. When they find a target, they hop in the speedboat and intercept it. Traffic in the area is pretty heavy so it seems like you'd need a great many Q-ships to make a difference.

  2. I figured the president would need to authorize it, but I wasn't sure.

    If the pirates are going to specifically seek out and target U.S. vessels in order to try to get revenge, then they might find the Q-ships. I don't think there are that many U.S. flagged merchant ships in the region.

  3. > If the pirates are going to specifically seek out and target U.S. vessels in order to try to get revenge, then they might find the Q-ships.

    No, see, they're interested in ransom profit, not silly ideas like revenge.

    Flags will only matter if a country carries more risk or is more difficult to extort. But this just means they'll pick on other countries more. We need a general solution to the problem, not one that depends on the flag flown.