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The Weak Link in Anti-Piracy Efforts

August 29, 2009

Last week a USN helicopter was fired on by a Somali pirate from a Taiwanese fishing ship. They just keep getting bolder, and getting away with it, according to JE Dyer at Commentary Magazine:

There was no decision point for returning fire from the Navy helicopter, because the crewmen were not certain they had been fired on until they evaluated the recording from their infrared camera after the mission. The pirates used small arms (rifles), which give off little muzzle flash and do not have the range to hit the helicopter at the altitude it would maintain for a surveillance mission. A shoulder-fired missile would be immediately detectable and draw an immediate response from the Navy. But small-arms fire, in these circumstances, is not a valid pretext for any specific critique of either our operational policies or our military rules of engagement.

Citizens, however, can be excused for finding this explanation technically and politically unsatisfying. While our Navy and others labor in obscurity, making the headlines only when something less than heroic occurs, Somali piracy is on the rise and adapting to naval deterrence tactics, and European lawyers are representing pirates and arguing for their rights.

It’s such a relatively minor threat, no one would argue this, but anti-piracy often takes firm, even brutal measures to suppress, or it grows into something far worse. Today I read the following on Sri Lankan lessons dealing with terror, that apply here as well. David Axe reveals to us how Brutality Can Help Win Small Wars:

• Unwavering political will
• Disregard for international opinion distracting from the goal
• No negotiations with the forces of terror
• Unidirectional floor of conflict information
• Absence of political intervention to pull away from complete defeat of the [enemy]
• Complete operational freedom for the security forces — let the best men do the task
• Accent on young commanders
• Keep[ing] your neighbors in the loop

Such ideas are horrible I know, but “It is best that war is so terrible, less we grow too fond of it“. Now we have these endless wars with  a minority of the population doing the fighting and dieing, while the rest go about our everyday business. War no longer is terrible to us but push button, quick, and decisive or just far-off.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 31, 2009 9:18 am

    I think this is good news using UAVs, but I wish the Navy would get in on this, as an opportunity to seek funding for new smaller ships. Sustained presence is the best deterrent to piracy and nothing says presence and persistence like a ship. It doesn’t have to be of the high tech, gold-plated variety, either. Even a converted merchantman would do. But light warships are better for this job.

    Scott, thanks for the update! Thats a big fisherman!

  2. elgatoso permalink
    August 30, 2009 9:56 pm

    Even when I still think that piracy is a Coast Guard problem,I agree with Mike in a lots of topics.The blog Strategy page said that some Reaper UAVs and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft on the Seychelles islands, to search for Somali pirates operating far from their bases.IMHO ,more Predator,Reaper and the new Fire Scout should be used in this kind of incidents .They are cheaper that battleships and gonna give new capabilities and strategies to the navy/air force.

  3. Scott B. permalink
    August 30, 2009 7:47 pm

    And apparently, Win Far 161 had no IOTC authorization.

    IOTC = Indian Ocean Tuna Commission

  4. Scott B. permalink
    August 30, 2009 7:26 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “Last week a USN helicopter was fired on by a Somali pirate from a Taiwanese freighter.”

    The Taiwanese-flagged Win Far 161 is NOT a freighter, but a fishing vessel (a 700-ton tuna longliner to be precise).

  5. Hudson permalink
    August 30, 2009 3:09 am

    Title 46 of United States Code applies to U.S. Merchant Mariners. There is no provision within the code allowing crew to carry firearms. U.S. rules of engagement viz-a-vie pirates also restrict armed action if there is a danger to civilian life. The laws of the sea are much more liberal in allowing ship captains to engage pirates.

    In most situations involving international naval crews, said crews must confirm verbally that the boat they are approaching is in fact manned by pirates. Often the Somali pirates lie and say they are fishermen. Actually, many of them were fisherman before taking up the more profitable trade. They surrender easily, suffer being boarded. Their weapons are thrown overboard and they are arrested for trial in Yeman or another country. Their skiffs are sunk.

    The de facto arbiter in attempts to combat piracy are the shipping companies. As long as they are willing to pay fat ransoms for their hijacked ships and are not willing to put up much of a fight to defend their cargo, the naval powers will be limited in their means of protecting these vessels. The pirates themselves almost never resort to brutality. They’re in it for the money.

    The U.S. should consider outfitting its own vessels with a contingent of Marines. The naval powers should consider non-lethal means of harassing the home villages where pirates hang out: water bombing them with paint or dye, smoke, mildly nauseous chemicals. They might conduct quick in-and-out commando raids to get the pirate kingpins and burn their mansions.

    Brutality on the part of the naval powers will surely bring a response from the pirates in their treatment of captured civilians and mariners. If it comes to open warfare between the pirates and the naval powers, the Somali pirates might well be beaten, but likely at a stiff price in civilian lives, theirs and ours.

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