Piracy

     A UN contact group has been set up, a multinational naval force is organized and on the spot, and any number of conferences held to coordinate responses. Kenya has agreed to take custody of captured pirates and put them on trial and a number of pirates have been locked up already.
     Already many legal and administrative obstacles have been overcome and with the striking unanimity of the parties involved, others will be too. The multinational forces, including ships from at least 24 countries including Japan, China, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and lots of others, soon to include South Africa, have already foiled a number of attacks.
     There is no shortage of ships to do the work, by the way.
      Many countries have surface ships in their navies for various geopolitical reasons, but those reasons don’t usually involve fighting. Other than defending aircraft carriers, surface ships are arguably close to useless.
     Against a major power, they are easy targets for subs, missiles and airplanes. Against a minor power, they are a lot less useful than subs, missiles and airplanes. The last time surface ships were terribly useful to anyone but the US in action was the Falklands War nearly 30 years ago.
     India and Pakistan, China and Japan, sure they all need these ships to make sure rivals don’t get out of line and to convey the message of power, but not actually to fight. Dozens of frigates, corvettes, destroyers, cruisers and patrol boats and the like, all just sitting there, all their officers most likely to go through an entire career with no mission more challenging than a NATO exercise.
     Anti-piracy patrols are much more interesting for the officers and it’s an easy calculation for the ministers who have to pay for the damn ships anyway. Why not use them to solve an actual problem at sea?Not a new problem, remember. Piracy, like other forms of organized crime, has come and gone in waves over the millenia. Piracy plagued the Mediterranean in the 1700s and 1800s and the Caribbean a century or two earlier. In both cases it was eliminated, or reduced to irrelevance, by the application of naval force over comparably huge areas of sea.
      And that naval force comprised wooden ships and marines armed with muskets, not helicopters flying off high-tech destroyers. The conventional wisdom now is that the pirate problem won’t be eliminated until Somalia is stabilized and its young men found productive work. That would be the ideal approach, of course, but earlier blights of piracy were not always ended by getting rid of pirate havens.
     The pirates’ ships were hunted down at sea and taken, sunk, burned or destroyed and the pirates killed or hanged. Pirates are self-interested opportunists. You don’t have to kill or imprison the last one to end the problem, just enough of them to give the others incentive for a career change. In the last few months, pirates off the Horn of Africa have started to die or be arrested in pursuit of their quarry and their hunters, albeit frustrated, show no signs of letting up. This won’t take decades.
     It will end soon.

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