A Pirate’s Life for Somalis

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security.


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Donald Puchala of the University of South Carolina notes that “Reluctance to use countervailing force tended only to encourage the pirates.” He adds that piracy has historically been combated “by a single major power, frequently the hegemon of the era.”

The United States plays that role today.

Many Americans forget or simply do not know that piracy has been a challenge since the very beginning of the Republic. Indeed, it could be argued that pirates are America’s oldest enemy.

The Barbary States in northern Africa required ships traveling near their waters to pay tribute to guarantee safe passage. In fact, when George Washington was inaugurated, as Donald Chidsey observes in The Wars in Barbary, Americans were being held hostage by Barbary pirates. The U.S. paid huge sums in tribute, ransom and naval stores.

Thomas Jefferson bitterly opposed this policy, and he overturned it once he became president. “It will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them,” he said. Skirmishes, battles and full-scale invasions followed, until a series of U.S. victories finally forced the Barbary States to sign treaties, ending decades of attacks against U.S. shipping. Puchula adds that the French decision to send 37,000 troops to occupy Algiers helped the cause.

But piracy wasn’t confined to the Barbary Coast. CRS notes that between 1801 and 1855, U.S. forces carried out counter-piracy missions in Tripoli, Algiers, Greece, Ivory Coast, Hong Kong and Sumatra. After what President Andrew Jackson called “an act of atrocious piracy” against a U.S. merchant ship in the waters around Sumatra, he deployed the USS Potomac, disguised as a Dutch merchant ship, “to inflict such chastisement as would deter them and others from like aggressions.”

Back in this hemisphere, CRS reports that there were 3,000 pirate attacks in the Caribbean between 1815 and 1823. The U.S. Navy responded in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spanish Florida and the Yucatan. Konstam notes that President James Monroe even created an “anti-pirate squadron.”

Closer to our times, President Ronald Reagan dealt with a kind of latter-day Barbary piracy, when Libya declared the Gulf of Sidra as its own, in violation of international law. In response, the U.S. Navy repeatedly engaged the Libyan navy and air force, to deadly effect. In 1985, Reagan ordered U.S. warplanes to intercept and divert an Egyptian airliner carrying Palestinian terrorists who had pirated the Achille Lauro and murdered an American. And in 2009, after Somali pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama and took its captain hostage, President Barack Obama authorized Navy SEALs to kill the attackers.

It may be too uncivilized for the EU and the rest of the PC crowd, but the common denominator of successful counter-piracy campaigns throughout history is the use of military force not simply to apprehend pirates, but to target and destroy them, their vessels and their bases.

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  • fda

    Maybe if foreign companies hadn't overfished the Somalian coast and dumped toxic waste into it the Somali fishermen wouldn't have to resort to piracy to survive.

    • PhillipGaley

      So, when you run low on cash, is it the fault of the g_d da_n Jewish bankers and the g_d da_n USA govt. that, you have to rob convenience stores and pizza delivery people? I know how ya' feel, . . .

      • PhillipGaley

        "Da debil made me do it."

  • http://www.contextflexed.com Flipside

    In the United States we call piracy “toll booths” and “customs enforcement.”

  • PhillipGaley

    And the guys with their tow trucks are sometimes called "pirates", . . . among other epithets, . . .

    However, except in such as, "SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY" and, "WHAT A DAY FOR A DAYDREAM", and so forth, as in most things, the lackadaisical approach betrays a fault, . . .

    Vigilantes drove thugs from San Francisco to Seattle, once there, they were driven hither and yon at the point of a gun, many into Montana, with many dying along the way.

    Somewhat varying for different locales, I'd see the piracy ended in maybe a humanitarian way: buy the boats and sink 'em; no buy out and sink 'em; or, as in Somalia, give 'em some garden seed, a shovel and a hoe, and tell them the fishing life is at an end, any small craft found in the open sea, would probably not be home for dinner, . . .

  • StephenD

    "…the EU’s counter-piracy effort entails confiscating the pirates’ weapons and the ladders they use to board ships “and leaving them with only enough petrol to get back to shore.”
    Yeah, that'll teach them! Are they sure in the EU they don't want to adopt a more proactive approach; say maybe conduct seminars on the error of the pirates ways?Until those that are subject to a pirate attack takes dramatic action, like blowing them out of the water, they almost deserve to be victims. They are in fact, victims of their own egalitarian mindset. They think we all share in the belief of human equality when these folks would just as soon cut your throat as to talk to you. Treat them accordingly and you may survive them.

  • Mickey Oberman

    The answer to the pirate problem is so simple and so relatively cheap that the entire EU could not possibly have come up with it.

    Every ship that enters pirate infested waters should have a suitably armed and suitably trained and suitably paid contingent of mercenaries aboard who are ready, willing and eager to stop any incursions by pirates.
    The cost of stolen ships and cargoes far, far outweighs what those mercenaries and their equipment would cost the ship owners and/or insurance companies.

  • LindaRivera

    If only the world had the strong, wonderful ethical leaders of the past! The world would be a far safer place. The US/EU policies reveal the US/EU are pro pirate, pro Muslim terrorist. It is despicable.

    I believe every ship and yacht that sails within a thousand miles of pirate territory should be fully equipped with all of the war weapons of the pirates. Machine guns, rocket launchers, rockets, grenades. Everything. Fight back and win!

    I just now glanced at the comment above, Mickey Oberman's comment. His comment is similar. However, small yachts have no money for mercenaries. And if they don't have money for the weapons, the US/EU should provide them with weapons! If the US/EU won't provide weapons, I'm sure, caring private donors would! WIN the War against the Muslim pirate terrorists!

  • Woody Guthrie

    Yes, as through this world I've wandered
    I've seen lots of funny men;
    Some will rob you with a six-gun,
    And some with a fountain pen.

    And as through your life you travel,
    Yes, as through your life you roam,
    You won't never see an outlaw
    Drive a family from their home.

  • Jaladhi

    All these pirates should be blown out of water!!! Why hasn't the world anything about it instead of paying them ransom for last so many years is simply nuts. The problem would only be solved when they face the music for their crimes against the rest of the world.

  • LindaRivera

    The U.S. and the EU treat barbaric Muslim terrorist pirates like these savages are innocent children out to have a good time. The US and the EU protect these cruel, savage predators and give them the very best care as a loving mother would do for her children. What a dark day for the world's innocents.

  • George Johnson

    This is just more liberalism. And it's liberalism that is destroying the world. Political correctness is just another term for liberalism.
    You can blame just about everything on liberalism. Crime, drugs, poor schools, housing collapse, economic collapse and on and on and on. Socialism, marxism, communism, it's all "liberalism" and it has GOT to be stamped out. Liberals have had control for about the past 70 years, and they have just about destroyed the whole world! It's to say "Enough is ENOUGH! Stop it!!"