Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gypo Pirates

The term “gypo logger” originated in the Pacific Northwest and described any guy with a pick up truck and a chain saw that set himself up as an Independent Logging Contractor. It seems appropriate to now call any Somali fisherman with a boat and an AK-47 a “gypo pirate”. In the last year, piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden has grown dramatically with some 92 ships being attacked. A handful of these yahoos in a high-speed outboard, armed with automatic weapons and RPGs can easily overpower the unarmed and thinly-manned freighters. The game: move the ships into a nearby harbor on the Somalia coast and hold the ship and crew hostage for ransom.

It’s a growth industry. Estimates vary, but it appears the pirates made at least $40 million last year. The pirates, who likely could not effectively run a hot dog cart, live like Columbian drug czars. Ports like Eyl are booming with ransom money being spent by the pirate princes to purchase mansions and expensive cars.

This week the pirates captured the Sirius Star, an oil tanker about the size of a Nimitz Class aircraft carrier carrying $100 million dollars of oil. This ship joined some 14 others with 300 crewmen as hostages awaiting ransom payments. Insurance companies and ship owners are trying to figure out what to do. The UN and the International Maritime Organization dither while shippers consider the option of going around the South African cape to avoid the area altogether, adding 12 days to their voyage. Shipping costs are going up 25 to 30%.

Somalia, of course, has no real government and has been run by warlords and Islamic terrorists for years. They can’t or won’t do diddily about it. Compounding the problem is the political correctness about “human rights”. I read a lengthy piece the other day written by two lawyers who agonized over where and how to try these international criminals. Last year the Danish Navy captured six Somali pirates and being unable to figure out where to prosecute, simply turned them loose. This sort of thing cannot be regarded as a helpful. To me, the whole jurisdictional issue is irrelevant. I say the few that survive capture (and I would hope not many do) should be tried in International Waters by the Captain of the largest ship in the area.

In the good old days, punishment for piracy was keel hauling or swinging from the yardarm. Maybe sailing into these pirate havens with a few of these guys hanging aloft might send a signal to other gypo pirates?

These pirates operate well out to sea with small boats supported by “mother ships” (usually captured trawlers). Last week one of these ships made the mistake of firing on an Indian Navy vessel, the INS Tabar. The Tabar shot back and sunk the mother ship. Good start.

“So Dick”, you ask. “What do you suggest?” Glad you asked. For openers, as soon as a freighter sends an SOS that they are being attacked I would dispatch jets or helicopters and sink the mother ships and any small boats around it. That might give them something to think about.

As to the ships now being held hostage… I’d give the pirates 48 hours to release the ships and crew. If they don’t, I’d send in Special Ops teams to take back the ships. The US has the SEALs, the Brits the SBS and all other countries the equivalent. The boarding parties would be supported by snipers in helicopters and small boats who would take out any pirate who stuck up his pointy-head. If resistance comes from the bridge or other protected cover, let the helos blast those locations with rockets and missiles. Yeah, you’d damage the ships but the repairs would be cheaper than the ransom.

But, you say, “What about the crews being held hostage?” Most, I understand, have been taken off the ships and are held ashore in Somali ports. President Jefferson sent the newly minted Marines to take care of the pirates off the “shores of Tripoli” over 200 years ago. I’m sure the Marines would welcome a reprise. I’m also sure the British SAS and the French Commandos would be happy to join in the fun. Fast roping into each of the places where the hostages are held (I’m confident our intelligence boys know exactly where they are) they would make short work of the ragtag criminals. The pirates could be advised that if a single hostage is killed that we will take no prisoners. When all the crews have been rescued, I would send in the jets and wipe out every port where the pirates have operated along the Somali coast. Simply sink every boat, blast every pier and destroy every warehouse.

Naturally, none of this will be done. The international community can’t even bring itself to deal with Iran and their nuclear weapons program even though everyone knows they will start a nuclear war one of these days.

I do know that if I owned one of the freighters plying these dangerous waters, I would be talking to Eric Prince, the CEO of Blackwater. I’d hire some of his heavily armed dudes to ride shotgun on my ship and instruct them to blast out of the water any small boat that got in range.

Good reading: this WSJ article on modern pirates.

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