Time to Get Tough with Pirates
Water is wet. The sky is blue. And the West is gutless.
While all three are indisputable, only the last can change. But it will take sheer will and enormous courage to turn around two continents in a death spiral, the result of leaders prostrating themselves before the altar of political correctness, and a people too reluctant to challenge them.
A perfect example is the situation on the high seas. Despite brutal acts of piracy occurring off both African coasts — affecting Western shipping, and by extension, Westerners themselves — political and media elites continue to do virtually nothing to address, let alone solve, the problem.
Sure, Hollywood has produced the Tom Hanks’ movie "Captain Phillips," recounting how Navy SEALS saved a freighter captain and his crew from marauding pirates, but such tales are the exception. The "rule" is continual ship hijackings, outrageous ransom demands (almost always paid), kidnappings, torture, and yes, murder.
Despite Captain Phillips’ box office success, the pirates aren’t fazed and their lucrative ways haven’t changed. Just last week, an oil supply vessel was boarded off Nigeria’s coast, its crew lined up by nationality. All but the two Americans were released.
Our response? Nothing.
Several years ago, then-79-year-old Norwegian shipping magnate Jacob Stolt-Nielsen wrote an op-ed stating that the only realistic way to deal with maritime terrorists was to sink their ships — with the pirates in them — or execute them on the spot.
Since hanging pirates on the high seas had all but eliminated piracy, common sense tells us reinstituting that policy now would be a good plan. Yet Stolt-Nielsen was viciously demonized, as too many thought pirates deserved "rights" and their day in court.
The result since then? Our weakness has allowed the pirates to get even richer (pulling in hundreds of millions), and we foot the bill, as maritime piracy costs the global economy around $7 billion a year.
It’s time for another way.
"You wanna know how to get Capone?" Sean Connery’s character asks Elliot Ness in "The Untouchables." "They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way! And that’s how you get Capone."
Know what? They got Capone.
Unfortunately, The Chicago Way has been lost on America’s leaders, replaced by softness, complacency and the desire not to offend.
And our enemies have exploited that weakness, as al-Qaeda can proudly attest.
It’s also why we routinely lose to pirates operating from Somalia and, increasingly, in the Gulf of Guinea, through which 30 percent of America’s oil imports flow. (Hello? Can you say "energy independence?")
And we’re not talking about just pleasure craft or fishing vessels, but huge ships supplying the world with cargo, food, oil — and weapons. Even a supertanker (larger than an aircraft carrier) was hijacked while transporting a staggering $100 million worth of crude oil.
Pirates were even so bold that they executed Americans on a private vessel — despite being closely monitored by four U.S. Navy warships. That level of arrogance tells all we need to know: They don’t fear us.
And no wonder. Our "tough" response would be to haul captured pirates into U.S. courts on the other side of the world, where they will receive first-class, taxpayer-funded defense lawyers and free health care. How nice.
And that’s supposed to deter more attacks?
Manhattan prosecutors don’t make African pirates tremble, a fact not lost on Stolt-Nielsen. As one of the few Europeans who lives in the real world, he stated how to end the unchecked piracy:
"When (piracy) implies a great risk of being caught and hanged, and the cost of losing ships and weapons becomes too big, it will decrease and eventually disappear."
To that point, he ridiculed the American and European "solution," stating (We should) "not arrest them and say, ‘naughty, naughty, shame on you,’ and release them again, but sink their boats with all hands."
Yet, instead of aggressive action, we bury our heads in the sand, listening to those who believe killing pirates would be "barbaric," a violation of their human rights.
What about the human rights given to murdered Americans and tortured sailors? But, of course, those real victims are always forsaken by bleeding hearts.
You give up your rights upon hijacking a ship. Cross the line and all bets are off. Heavily armed guards and crews should, upon attack, exercise no restraint in vaporizing marauders. The goal should not be to deter, but destroy, for three reasons. First, it’s just as likely pirates will execute the crew once aboard. Second, letting them go will only make another ship’s crew their victim. Third, it will send a clear, unmistakable message that there is a new Law Of The Sea — called The Chicago Way.
Such an initiative would immediately make pirates think twice while relieving pressure on the already-overwhelmed U.S. Navy, which simply isn’t big enough to protect the world’s shipping lanes. Sailors in the merchant marine are highly professional, certainly capable of protecting their cargoes and, more importantly, themselves. And since we already entrust them with ships and cargoes that can exceed a quarter of a billion dollars, it’s a no-brainer that they could, and would, act responsibly in an anti-piracy campaign.
Let’s be very clear about what will happen. When pirate corpses float up on the beaches of Somalia and Nigeria, there will be a shift in how the remaining pirates conduct their business. Translation: They’ll find a different profession, immediately. Bank on it.
There’s a direct correlation between pussyfooting with pirates and the huge spike in piracy. So let’s drop the empty threats, sink some pirate ships and kill the barbarians.
Then they can have their day in court. In Davy Jones’ locker.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]