Monday, April 13, 2009

Okay ...

Now that Captain Phillips is safe aboard USS Boxer, soon to make his way home, it's time to talk about our policy in dealing with the pirates. The captain and crew of Maersk Alabama, wittingly or not, have changed the paradigm and we can no longer have a "wait and see" attitude once a ship is taken.

No longer will the pirates operate as they have previously. Freighter crews will be in more danger as the pirates will now assume active resistance on the crews' part. They know they will have to work faster, bring more manpower, and be more heavily armed with weapons made to fight in the confined spaces between the bulkheads (an AK is a bit big, lengthwise; too easy to get hung up on gangways and bulkhead fittings). They will be more inclined to shoot first, more inclined to kill hostages before warships arrive on the scene. Rightly or wrongly, post-Maersk, these holdups will become more violent.

So now I ask, in light of the events of the past week; do we have a policy to deal with the situation now that things have obviously escalated? Will the Rules of Engagement for CTF-151 change now that the rules of the game have changed? Or will we just go along as we have until a crew is murdered?

As you all know, the news was entirely devoted to Captain Phillips' rescue yesterday, even the European networks. I heard a lot of people in merchantman circles give their two cents and almost all said there has to be a more aggressive policy when dealing with the pirate problem. General Mark Kimmitt, yesterday on CNN, echoed my sentiments yesterday saying (paraphrasing) that Somalia's problems would require 10 to 15 years fix and we don't have that long. I would agree, adding the next incident with the pirates will not be as peaceful.

The point is, President Obama and his defense people have a decision to make, and quite soon. Will we let the Navy play it by the seat of their pants (as they did this time), hoping for a break (not every hostage is prepared to take his own fate in his hands like Captain Phillips), or will we aggressively hunt these creeps down and kill them? There is no middle ground anymore.

The pirates will not give up their raids because three of them have been killed, the payoff is too lucrative. While the safety of the merchant crews is the priority, allowing the shippers, and their insurance companies, to pay ransom hurts us all. We, all of us, pay for it in the cost of goods shipped via the Seven Seas. It is also an incentive to others who see it as a way to supplement their income. The problem has to be nipped in the bud, before it spreads farther.

President Obama must act now to put a comprehensive policy in place and move enough assets to the region to deal with it effectively, whether or not our partners in the operation follow suit or not. Without action, the international waters off Somalia will never be safe and will only become more dangerous.

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