3 Solutions to the Somali Pirate Problem 4-10-09
Once again, this problem receives some US media attention because this time it is an American ship.
(1) The oldest, least bureaucratically intrusive, and most cost-effective solution has been known for over 500 years: lightly-arm the merchant ships.
The Dutch were very successful at this, starting with the first of their “East Indiamen” in 1497. These fast, lightly-armed cargo vessels had less trouble with piracy, unlike the ships of the other nations.
Today, the chief impediment to arming cargo ships is reported by authorities at the US Merchant Marine Academy to be international maritime law. Unarmed ships get through customs inspections faster.
Aw, come on, folks! Use common sense. It’s easier and cheaper to change that law slightly, than it is to ransom ships and crews.
(2) For ships not armed, my advice is don’t stop when the pirates approach. These Somali pirates, in small boats, are armed only with assault rifles and grenade launchers, so there is little risk of serious damage to any full-size ship.
Think about it: small boat next to big ship. For the pirates to get on the ship’s deck some 30 to 100 feet above the water, two things must happen: (1) the ship must stop, and (2) the ship must drop a ladder or open a door in the hull. So, don’t!
But, better yet, what if all the ships were armed and shot back, sinking the bad guys more often than not? Pretty soon, the pirates would be doing something else for a living.
(3) The other solution is more bureaucratically intrusive and less cost-effective. It is a successful technique employed in both world wars: the escorted convoy.
If the cargo ships travelled in convoys accompanied by warship escorts, these pirates would never attack. But, there is the regimentation and inconvenience of sailing only to convoy schedules.
Plus, there is the expense of providing lots of naval escorts, when there are not that many warships in all the navies of the world, as compared to all the cargo ships. International shipping in convoys will be slower, and lower volume.
So, arming the cargo ships is still the better solution, just as it was 500 years ago.
The best use of military resources is to attack pirate strongholds on land, when that is deemed appropriate. One must consider the balance between killing the bad guys and killing innocent bystanders when staging such attacks.
The US Navy warship watching the current drama off Somalia was named for a veteran of the Barbary Pirate wars and hero of the war of 1812: William Bainbridge. A place name from the Barbary Pirate wars, Tripoli, is commemorated in the US Marine Corps hymn.
That retrospective just goes to prove that history really does repeat itself, especially if one does not learn from it.
Arm the damn ships!