The piracy crisis off the shores of Somalia is another example of the breakdown of the will of nations to act decisively in an era of political correctness and pursuit of “human rights” even in the face of a serious security breakdown affecting billions of dollars in international trade. That a handful of buccaneers, estimated around one thousand, would be allowed to create an international maritime crisis by operating out of a failed state with total impunity would have struck leaders of days past as incomprehensible and ludicrous, to say the least. Teddy Roosevelt and Commodore Samuel Barron must be writhing in their graves at the mere thought that dozens of ships, their valuable cargo, and their crews, are taken hostage under the nose of a powerful international naval presence supposedly deployed off Somalia to deal with the problem decisively and swiftly -- not to mention that shipping owners are involved in multimillion-dollar ransom exchanges with the culprits.
Greece has a special interest in the unfolding piracy crisis. With the largest commercial fleet worldwide in Greek hands, the piracy threat acquires poignancy and urgency that call for action even by a country of limited means like Greece. Such has been the impact of the crisis that the Greek government, not usually too responsive to emerging security threats away from its shores, has become sensitized to the need for an answer to the plundering raiders: one Hellenic Navy frigate is on station off Somalia as part of the international naval force there; and a Hellenic Navy commodore will be the operational officer commanding the first NATO flotilla, including an additional Greek warship, specifically earmarked for Somali waters counter-piracy operations expected to deploy in early December 2008.
It is obvious that the Somali pirate kingdom, centered on the lawless port city of Eyl, cannot be approached via the wringing of hands, thoughtful conclusions about the “complexity” of international law, and UN committees issuing toothless resolutions. The effective way of dealing with the pirates has been demonstrated by the Indian Navy and INS Tabar, a Talwar-class frigate deployed off the Horn of Africa to protect shipping by order of the Indian Government. The Tabar not only foiled two pirate attempts on 11 November 2008, one of which involved the quick dispatch of heliborne commandos to the threatened vessel, she also successfully pursued and sunk a pirate mother ship eight days later. Tabar's superb response leaves way behind other much more powerful navies operating in the region, including both those of the United States and Russia.
Ways of suppressing the pirates are obvious and can work, if pursued consistently. A tight naval blockade of Eyl, coupled with orders to shoot to kill and sink, is an obvious beginning. Uniform rules of engagement allowing patrolling warships to stop and board suspect vessels and, in case of refusal, open fire with “extreme prejudice,” is an inevitable corollary. Long range air patrols could help pinpoint pirate mother ships, usually exposed by their telltale towing of open skiffs with outboard motors, and direct naval assets to their location. An even more determined approach would be joint commando operations to assault pirate strongholds on the coast, kill brigands right in their own bases, and destroy their logistical assets.
Today's leaders would be well advised to go back to the library and peruse history books on how piracy was defeated in centuries past. None of these examples suggest that pirates' “rights” entered the equation, ever. Similarly, the Somali piracy crisis won't be resolved by negotiation. Remembering the old rules, and implementing them one more time, will.