The Bow Ramp

Monday, November 14, 2005

Why Piracy Pays

I guess I’ll join in the fray and discuss the whole pirate thing. Cdr. Salamander has already done a good job of summarizing the debate to date. Thanks Phibian.

Back in the 19th. Century, the Western nations (i.e. Colonial Powers) banded together and (mostly) eliminated the threat of piracy. They didn’t accomplish this by treating it as a law enforcement issue. They negotiated treaties that allowed any navy to apprehend, try and execute pirates whenever and wherever encountered. Most pirates lived in areas with little or no local government. Naval forces like as not would just blow away the village the pirates came from and let God sort out the guilty and the innocent. After a while, piracy just didn’t seem to be an attractive way to make a living.

Fast forward to today. The conditions that make piracy attractive to the locals are still in place (and in basically the same places.) Now though, the navies of the world can’t be so heavy handed. Suppose a U.S. Navy ship was transiting the Straits of Malacca and came to the aid of a merchantman that had been attacked. Apprehending the pirates would probably create an international incident as most of the Straits are in territorial waters belonging to the country that the pirates come from. Killing them outright would really tick off the locals. Additionally, the pirates have adopted technology. Remember the movie Blackhawk Down, where the locals were using cell phones to report our movements to the warlords? Today’s pirates are unlikely to operate far from land. They use speedboats, small arms, and RPGs to intimidate their unarmed victims. They will just stay at home if any military forces are nearby.

My suggestions?

A. Encourage merchant ships to engage civilian protective services. There are any number of companies that can provide armed riders, or security training for shippers.
B. Negotiate a free hand for our military forces (and those of other countries) with countries where piracy is prevalent. Make it plain that failure to negotiate a reasonable agreement means we may do things unilaterally anyway.
C. Q ships! Man up various rust-buckets, yachts, dhows, etc. with our folks and let the pirates come to us. Place our military personnel aboard legitimate shipping.
D. Shoot to kill. Take no prisoners.

There is no point in making an effort against piracy unless politically, our government can get behind treating pirates like, well, pirates.

Somehow I don’t see THAT happening.

UPDATE I no sooner finish this and start digging into the comments at Chap's site and see that Lex and I had both come up with the same idea (Q ships.)