Captain freed from pirates in daring rescue
Navy snipers shot three pirates who had held Richard Phillips hostage since Wednesday. The episode threatens to change the dynamics of piracy in the region.
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One answer would be to step up the Navy's presence in the area. "You publicly capture more pirates" as a disincentive, says Karin von Hippel, an international security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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Until now, Somali pirates have for the most part left the crews of hijacked ships unharmed – preferring to keep them healthy in order to extract ransom money. Yet after Sunday's US rescue mission – and a raid by French Special Forces that killed two pirates Friday – Somali pirates vowed revenge.
"The French and the Americans will regret starting this killing," a pirate who gave his name only as Hussein told Reuters by satellite phone. "We do not kill, but take only ransom. [But] we shall do something to anyone we see as French or American from now."
Few expect that death of five pirates in three days will make Somali pirates think twice. Dire poverty and the collapse of the Somali state mean piracy is "a business model that works for them," said Rear Adm. Rick Gurnon of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne – the school that trained Phillips – during a press conference Sunday.
"I don't think this will have any deterrent value at all," he added.
Instead, he quoted Thomas Jefferson, who spoke of the scourge of piracy at the beginning of the 19th century – and the need to hit the pirates in their home bases on land. "It was said, 'It's easier to go after the wasps' nest than swat the wasps.'" Admiral Gurnon said.
Others agree that the root of the problem is Somalia's status as a "failed state" without effective governance. That will take time to resolve, but some interim steps could include having any foreign aid to the current government tied to demands for new antipiracy efforts, says Ms. Von Hippel of CSIS. She suggests joint Somali-international patrols of the coastal waters, and perhaps an antipiracy public-relations effort – as would be part of a counterinsurgency campaign.
Curiously, the conditions in which the Somali pirates flourish today are not so different from those of Blackbeard and a clique of other famous buccaneers, says Colin Woodard, author "The Republic of Pirates," a book on the "golden age" of piracy in the 18th century.
- The Bahamas was, for a time, a failed state that provided a haven for pirates.
- It was near key shipping lanes.
- The pirates cast themselves not as bandits but as freedom fighters.
In Blackbeard's day, the activities were partly a social revolt against ship owners, says Mr. Woodard. In Somalia, the pirates pit themselves against alleged practices such as illegal dumping of toxic waste by international ships in Somali fishing waters.
He's not sure if the past holds lessons for the future, but he notes that the golden age of piracy did end.
A divide-and-conquer tactic helped. Some pirates accepted an amnesty bargain and jointed the fight against their former brethren.
Says Woodard: "It was all about successfully bringing governance – bringing down the pirates' sanctuary by restoring … the rule of law."