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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Piracy Has Limited Life

It has been so long since major shipping suffered from piracy, that ships, crews, navies and police are not geared up for it.

Modern pirates, small bands in small ships with rockets and machine guns, are hard to stop before they strike because they can hide without difficulty among the large number of other small craft in the waters off Somalia. And it's tricky to handle once they have seized a ship.

The international community and the shipping business are more protective of crews, ships and cargoes than they were in the past. The last thing the crew or owners of a 100,000-ton vessel want is an opposed boarding; they'd much rather pay ransom. Navies are trying to protect huge areas of sea and they can't be on the scene at just the right moment to stop every attack.

Then there is Somalia itself. A long coastline full of well-armed, but poor and desperate people, with warlords and gangs in charge and no effective government or law enforcement ... it is a recipe for organized crime of all kinds, and Somalia is well-placed for piracy.

There are many factors that favor continued depredations by these bands of quick, organized, adaptable and well-armed pirates. And yet I think they are going to have to give up the game soon. Why? Because they have pissed off the entire world.

The entire world, while perhaps not quick, is organized, adaptable, very well-armed, and rather big.

We are not used to thinking of our world as being organized, because news reports only covers the failures. The UN Security Council can't fix the Arab-Israeli dispute, Interpol can't stop terrorism or the drug trade, the IMF and the World Bank cannot stop painful swings in capital markets.

The fact is, though, that the modern world is organized in a hundred ways that are invisible to us because they work well. Mail is delivered, money is transferred, criminals are extradited, goods are traded, telephone calls are connected across borders all the time.

International laws, treaties and organizations abound, and function quite well and, when a new problem or a new twist on an old problem comes up, diplomats and leaders have a host of methods at hand.

The failures are the truly intractable problems where the warring parties don't want a solution or the solution is too painful or the malefactors are too easily able to adapt. Somali piracy is not one of those problems.

For one, the pirate can only adapt so much. To pursue their line of work, they have no choice but to sail out to sea in small boats, armed with rockets and machine guns. They're not going to get their hands on frigates or helicopters. They can't switch to "land routes" the way a drug trafficker can.

The effective answers to piracy, when they are found, will not be that painful. Destroyers can sail around, pirates can be shot or jailed, ships can be defended by private contractors without a lot of disagreement. There is a cash cost to all of it, but it can easily be calculated and compared to the costs imposed by piracy.

Handling the break up of Yugoslavia was painful; unless we outright invade Somalia, this will not be painful.

And everyone agrees about it, at least everyone who isn't a pirate. Everyone wants it to end. Once the scope of the problem became clear, the UN Security Council, which we are used to thinking of as a useless institution hamstrung by great power rivalries, passed a series of unanimous resolutions granting pirate hunters among other things the right to pursue their quarry into Somali waters or to invade Somalia proper.piracy continued

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