Monday, April 13, 2009

Swashbuckling Somalians

There is obviously something very wrong in Somalia. I would imagine that, until recently, most Americans could not find Somalia on a map. Now Somalian pirates have become the topic d'jour, especially after the capture of an American captain.

It baffles me how a hand full of guys in tiny skiffs expect to pull off the hijacking of a commercial freighter. But apparently they are fairly successful, so the issue here becomes how to stop it.

I do not understand why these ships are not armed. It seems that a simple solution would be to pay a few bucks and hire a bit of armed security on these ships. As of yesterday, shooting pirates in the head seems to be a fairly permanent solution. Granted, it only applies to the ones who are actually shot, but it does get the point across. I would prefer hanging pirates, but I also support prime-time televised executions for crimes involving violence, so there may be some bias here.

So, why doesn't Joe Somalian just find a real job? I had to undergo a brief history of Somalia in order to comprehend the why these guys would jump in their pirogues and chase these huge ships. It seems that Somalia is a nasty, dirt-poor country of around 9 million, where the average Joe lives on about $2 a day. I guess that is to be expected when you have a country in a constant state of conflict between tribal warlords.

The piracy initially involved Somali fishermen attempting to secure their coastline against large commercial fishing trawlers. Illegal fishing had flourished in Somali waters since Barre was overthrown, and this apparently pissed off the native fishermen.

Additionally, the head thug at the time allegedly accepted a princely sum from European industry to allow dumping of toxic waste off the coast. Since 1993, there are all sorts of ailments cropping up that are consistent with radiation sickness. So its probably a good thing that Somalia exports most of its seafood.

Then the warlords got wind of the profits to be made from piracy, so the skiffs piloted by local fishermen are now armed with automatic rifles and grenade launchers. Vessels of all kinds could now be considered fair game by these privateers. As long as the sea was calm enough to avoid their dinghy from being swamped, that is.

OK, so is sucks to live in Somalia. Hard to comprehend, since a birthrate of 6.9 children per woman shows me Somalia is the place to raise a family. Granted, infant mortality is 115 per 1000 which, along with constant tribal conflicts and starvation, keeps the growth rate to a manageable level. As long as the country has no strong government, and the only way to survive is to join a militia group or become a pirate, the hope for a decent life for the people of Somalia seems fairly dismal.

But is this supposed to justify these acts of piracy? Should acts of armed robbery be condoned because of economic duress? If this is the case, then we are certainly wasting a lot of effort and money on unemployment programs here in the US. Can't find a job? Find somebody to rob!

Most agree that this piracy should not and cannot be allowed. Currently 19 countries have furnished warships to patrol the area. But it is a very, very large area. The cost of having these ships on patrol is far greater than the few million paid to ransom the unfortunate ones armed only with water hoses, so some feel the cure is worse than the disease.

These warships cannot be everywhere at once, so why don't the owners of these vessels furnish their own protection? Aside from possible complications from international maritime law, I can only assume they are simply looking at profits. Apparently the lives of the crew are not included as significant entries on their balance sheets.

If their security thereby becomes a matter for the military, then military force needs to be used properly. By 'properly', I mean the use of an overwhelming force to accomplish the objective as quickly as possible. If this means blowing every Somalian craft out of the water, then do it and don't look back.

There is also talk about going into Somalia and the Pirate's Den. Am I to assume that everyone has forgotten recent US history in Mogadishu? Seems like the last time, we sent in a small force, and it had 'less than favorable' results. Let's not let that happen again.

Of course, do not forget there are an estimated 200+ hostages currently being held by these pirates. A massive military strike would certainly be detrimental to the health of these folks. A tough problem to be certain, and one many people would claim should only be solved through negotiation.

Soon after the first ships were built, the first pirates emerged. Shortly thereafter, military warships pursued these seafaring criminals. They were hunted down, captured and either imprisoned or executed, or both. There were no negotiations, and I see no difference with the current situation.

The crew of the Maersk-Alabama, with one pirate in custody, did negotiate an exchange for Captain Phillips. Upon the pirate's release, these 'Gentlemen of Fortune' promptly reneged on the deal. I am afraid that the only deal these pirates would consider is payment. Caving to their demands would only add credibility to their actions and incentivize further acts of piracy.

The Islamic lunatic fringe movement Al-Shabaab (Somalian al-Qaeda) reportedly receives a substantial amount of funding thru this piracy. Now they seem a bit upset that their pirate buddies were blown away. They are now vowing to extract revenge upon the US, as if this is anything new.

I recall one pirate's comments that "every country will be treated the way it treats us." I agree whole-heartedly, and believe that fair is fair. From this day on, we should treat pirates the way they treat us. Commandeer their boats at will. Only we won't bother asking for ransom. Just tow them out to sea and sink 'em. And, if they care to escalate things, I believe it will soon become obvious that the Somalian navy just ain't what it used to be. Arrr, matey!

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