2008 December 16 Tuesday
Can Big Navies Beat Little Pirates?

So far various Navies have shown themselves ineffectual against Somali pirates.

But the wily buccaneers of Somalia’s seas do not seem especially deterred — instead, they seem to be getting only wilier. More than a dozen warships from Italy, Greece, Turkey, India, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Britain, Malaysia and the United States have joined the hunt.

And yet, in the past two months alone, the pirates have attacked more than 30 vessels, eluding the naval patrols, going farther out to sea and seeking bigger, more lucrative game, including an American cruise ship and a 1,000-foot Saudi oil tanker.

The pirates are stalking bigger game. They are getting away with stuff like Johnny Depp. They need film crews assigned to them. This could make great reality TV.

Finally, nations are at least pretending to take serious this threat to the international trading system. Can't have mere pirates flaunting their disregard for authority now can we? No. The big governments are talking tough.

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 16 -- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize nations to conduct military raids, on land and by air, against pirates plying the waters off the Somalia coast even as two more ships were reportedly hijacked at sea.

The vote represented a major escalation by the world's big powers in the fight against the pirates, who have disrupted commerce along one of the world's most active sea routes and acquired tens of millions of dollars in ransom. It came as China -- which has had several ships commandeered in recent months -- said it is seriously considering joining U.S., European and Russian warships policing the region.

Are the pirates making enough money to buy the tech they need to fight back? Or are they too unsophisticated to get guided missiles to use against ships?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 December 16 11:45 PM  Civilizations Order Maintenance

Anon said at December 17, 2008 8:11 AM:

This is lack of willpower, not military power. These pirates could be shut down in a week. Everybody knows where they sail from.

yusuf said at December 17, 2008 9:20 AM:

shut within a week? hehehe the only way to make money in poverty ridden somalia is piracy.

it will be interesting to see how this plays out now that the un has authority to go into somalia

Anon said at December 17, 2008 10:12 AM:

shut within a week? hehehe the only way to make money in poverty ridden somalia is piracy.

it will be interesting to see how this plays out now that the un has authority to go into somalia?

Yes, within a week. As I said, willpower is needed. And that is lacking. And the UN? You know what people call guys in UN uniforms? Targets(suckers if the UN guys are lucky). I expect the same success they have delivered in other African nations.

Dan Reynolds said at December 17, 2008 12:25 PM:

It seems that this is not the first time we have dealt with pirates. Remember in your history books, the Barbary Coast pirates. 200 yrs ago and all we had to fight them with were three masters. No satellites, no spies, no huge navies, just guts and a determined few. Where are the Saudis in all this. 100 million dollar cargo means nothing to them. Its already been sold. Where are the swashbucklers, it wouldn't take many to go ashore and take care of this problem. Just give them a few million.Why can't someone go up to that tanker and get it out of there. What are the Somaliss going to do? I don't think they have a whole lot of options, especially if we can find someone with the guts to hijack their tiny boats and bring them to justice in the Mideast where the penalty for piracy is the end of a rope. The WWII generation that went ashore at places called Iwo Jima and Normandy must be wondering just where all the guts went to.
I thought the Neville Chamberlains of this world were in a minority.

gcochran said at December 17, 2008 5:17 PM:

Piracy crops up now and again, but in the past it was always relatively easy to suppress - unless backed by a powerful rival state.. Today. with modern military/technical means, it would be considerably easier.

averros said at December 18, 2008 3:16 AM:

The history of US suppressing Barbary Coast pirates is quite instructive, in fact.

US Navy was pretty much helpless. It were privateers (authorized with letter of marque and reprisal) who got rid of the pirates - they turned profit doing that, too. More than a few fortunes were made by investors in Annapolis who bought shares in privateer ships. The only thing military is good at is hiding how horribly incompetent the generals are. (Which is not suprising considering that, being a monopoly, military is not a subject to competivive pressures during peacetime, which allows political bulshitters to get all the top positions).

Actually, there was Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001, which didn't pass - if it were passed, Al Quaeda would be history pretty quickly, most likely made very extinct by a local rival seeking a payoff.

gcochran said at December 18, 2008 9:47 AM:

The British and French Navies got rid of the Barbary pirates, after the defeat of Napoleon. Privateers didn't do it.

James Bowery said at December 18, 2008 11:01 AM:

What are the Somalian analogues to the Barbary Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripolitania?

Larry said at December 18, 2008 11:53 AM:

Use Q ships as used in WW1 against Uboats. These were merchant ships that looked helpless but were heavily armed.

Dragon Horse said at December 18, 2008 12:16 PM:

China recently announced they will attack the pirates.


Well maybe.

Anon said at December 18, 2008 12:26 PM:

China recently announced they will attack the pirates.


Well maybe.

If the PRC does(and that is a big if), those pirates are going to wish the Americans were on their ass. Those guys don't fuck around. As a side benefit, the Chinese get to test some new toys and see if their people are any good at fighting some desperate, tough characters instead of just shooting Tibetans.

Randall Parker said at December 18, 2008 10:07 PM:

I agree with Greg Cochran that pirates are easy to suppress in theory. But will the navies remain so restrained in what they can do that they will continue to be ineffective?

James Bowery,

Somalia just isn't big on the memorable scale. By contrast, North Africa has the wastes of Carthage. It matters in the bigger sweep of history.

James Bowery said at December 19, 2008 8:40 AM:

The reason I bring up the question of whether there is a Somalian analogue to the Barbary States is to indirectly question the applicability of the analogy. It may well be that privateers would be more effective with Somalian pirates than would state navies due to the differences.

gcochran said at December 19, 2008 10:13 AM:

Jesus Christ. You might want to check how a lot of historical pirates got their start: what do you think Captain Kidd's first job was? Moreover, privateers are against international law (not that we care, right?) as well as being uncontrollable.

anonymous said at December 19, 2008 10:30 AM:

Reactivate the New Jersey. Problem solved.

James Bowery said at December 19, 2008 10:44 AM:

Testimony of Mr. Douglas Kmiec Dean of the Columbus School of Law The Catholic University of America April 17, 2002:

Letters of Marque and Reprisal are grants of authority from Congress to private citizens, not the President. Their purpose is to expressly authorize seizure and forfeiture of goods by such citizens in the context of undeclared hostilities. Without such authorization, the citizen could be treated under international law as a pirate.

As for Captain Kidd, any treatment brings with it a danger of side-effects. That is where the quest for rationality must begin. It is certainly far from academic consensus that the anti-piracy policies that gave rise to accusation of piracy against Kidd were, themselves, on the whole responsible for an increase in piracy.

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