Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Piracy in the Void of the Empire

In a recent Reuters news article, Somali pirates have seized a number of merchant vessels off the Horn of Africa, including a Saudi super-tanker, the Sirius Star, carrying over $100 million in oil bound for the United States. These pirates have caused a number of countries to think twice about using the Suez canal and thus forcing the riskier journey around the Cape of Good Hope. A number of countries have sent naval vessels in to protect shipping (See this article for more on the Indian Navy's sinking of a pirate ship).

In true pirate-fashion, these Somalis have been holding the ships, their cargo, and their crews for ransom. One Somali website listed the ransom price of the Saudi Tanker, oil, and crew at $250 million. It also appears that the Somalis are well armed. Most pirate vessels are operating out of the former fishing village, Eyl. They are so well armed, in fact, that no navies have made plans to attack the port.

According to the article, there are several other reasons the international armada has not attacked. First, they have expressed concern that if they did attack, the pirates may harm the more than 200 hostages they already have imprisoned. Second, they remember the utter failure of American intervention in Mogadishu. No nation wants to face embarrassment like that. Third, the British Navy has indicated that they do not have enough ships to do the job. British Royal Navy Commodore Keith Winstanley said, "The pirates will go somewhere we are not[.] If we patrol the Gulf of Aden then they will go to Mogadishu. If we go to Mogadishu, they will go to the Gulf of Aden." What an amazing sentiment and admission from a nation that once controlled the seas ("Rule, Britannia, Britannia rule the waves..."). I understand the sentiment to not be perceived as a tyrannical imperial opressor, but I also believe that the developed nations that use all the world's territories for trade also have the responsibility to maintain the safety of those trade-routes.

If piracy is a problem, more ships must be sent. If the pirates only exist in the vacuum of a powerful military, a vacuum should not be produced in the first place. Britain, France, the U.S.A., and India each have considerably powerful and expansive navies, which should be sufficient for the task of ridding Africa's eastern coast of pirates. They also have the ability, if they so desired, to pound Eyl to dust. Frankly, I think the international community should send a message that piracy (like terror) will not be tolerated, regardless of the risk to the hostages. This should carry a similar weight to what ending slavery on Africa's western coast did two centuries ago. This is the only way to prevent more hostage ransoms, interrupted shipping, and the loss of general freedom in the region. It might also go a long way to fighting the insurgency of Arab Islamic fighters throughout Africa.

This is not the first time that British, French, and Americans have been forced to police African waters for pirates. America almost launched a war against Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers (modern Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria) over the predations of the Barbary pirates prior to Thomas Jefferson's presidency. (Here is another link on the Barbary situation)

When, exactly, did we become a nation of words and not action. Let's be done with the "wusification" of our nations, with half-measures, and with bluster. Let's re-adopt Teddy Roosevelt's sentment of: "speak softly and carry a big stick." Let us call our representatives to push for action against the Somali pirates.

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Update: According to a further article, another tanker was captured by the pirates of Eyl, a Yemeni one. After negotiations, it will be released without ransom. This article indicates that the local and provincial, if not the national, Somali governments are involved.

1 comment:

blbartlett said...

Wow, I didn't realize just how advanced the situation had become. Thanks for the extremely helpful explanation... I agree that international politics have become far too Utopian, and need to get a bit more realpolitik in their blood.