Archive for the 'Piracy' Category

We have, many of us, the image in our heads of Somali pirates as poor, ragged, skinny teenagers with AK-47s and RPGs, crowded into leaky skiffs, somewhat ineffectually attempting the hijacking of merchant ships which pass close enough to the shore to be accessible. The smarter money has known for some time that this is hardly the case. Those “pirates” in the boats represent the very expendable low-cost labor end of an increasingly sophisticated and technologically capable system that has seen its profits soar in recent years, despite international efforts to clamp down on piracy off Africa’s horn. Which brings me to this very interesting article from Neil Ungerleider over at FastCompany.

It seems some of those massive ransoms collected by the pirates off Somalia in recent years is being reinvested in new technology, heavier and more capable weapons, and people with technical and language skill sets that have enhanced the effectiveness of pirate operations substantially. From the article:

In addition to random attacks on cargo and passenger ships, Somali pirates are increasingly relying on the use of GPS systems, satellite phones, and open-source intelligence such as shipping industry blogs in order to figure out the location of ships.

However, the most interesting weapon in the Somalian arsenal to western observers is the use of pirate-operated radar to locate targets at sea. Pirate “mother ships” with radar and advanced weapons capabilities have strayed far beyond the Horn of Africa to locales as far-flung as Madagascar, India, and the Persian Gulf.

Indeed, even with radar from pirate “mother ships”, it is a big ocean, but considerably smaller when you know where to look. Not surprisingly, penetration of shipping company and port operations data bases has been possible with money to pay those who have the capabilities, as well as:

…translators who interpret the bulk of information that filters in through the automatic tracking devices. These men, though not involved in the actual hijacking, decipher and break down information for the team. The ‘foot soldiers’ are given instructions that most often turn out to be successful. The men who call themselves Somali Coast Guards also invest time on the World Wide Web tracking and gathering vital information. For example, the pirate financiers visit the Maritime Bureau Website to check what strategies have been put in place to curtail their activities. They, in turn, feed the gang.

The article’s final paragraph should serve as warning to those whose philosophy is to ignore or pay off the pirates.

According to the European Union, a sharp uprise in Somali pirate attacks is expected in 2011, including the use of machine guns as an everyday weapon. Western governments are, in turn, stepping up their game–Britain is taking steps to provide merchant ships with weapons, which would be the first time since World War II that this has happened.

Such an appraisal, coinciding with US drone strikes in Somalia against Al Shabab targets, is cause for concern. The statement from the New York Times article that “American intelligence and military officials warn of increasing operational ties between the Shabab and the Qaeda franchise in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P.” should stand as a warning that those who are gleaning profits from the pirates are more than just Somali warlords.

At last autumn’s USNI Piracy Conference, a number of speakers showed great hesitation in acknowledging any link whatever between Somali pirates, Al-Shabab, and Al Qaeda. However, to many of us in the audience who had watched our enemies for some time, and had in some cases fought actively against them either in uniform or as a part of our national security apparatus, the linking of these entities was a foregone conclusion. If the enterprise of piracy in Somali waters (and now well beyond) were profitable enough to be a major funding source for AQAP (or AQ in Yemen), they would involve themselves whether they were welcome and supported by the Somali pirates or not.

In his remarks at the USNI Piracy Conference, Keynote Speaker Stephen Carmel of MAERSK made a number of assertions to reinforce his notion that the Somali piracy problem was not significant enough to warrant anything but business as usual, which meant paying for ransomed ships and trying to avoid areas of known pirate activity. Some of those assertions have been proven tragically wrong in recent months, including this one:

The Somali pirates are a pure hostage for ransom crowd. That means… that the hostages always get released and generally are not horribly mistreated… I am not making light of the experience of those held hostage by Somali pirates – I am simply noting that the treatment of hostages at the hands of Barbary pirates was infinitely worse.

Which certainly calls into question Mr. Carmel’s entire argument.

So, Somali pirates are not a direct threat to US national interests, nor a significant threat to the international system of commerce. Somali pirates are also far less well funded, and far less capable of evolving into a large threat…

From a strict standpoint of the balance sheet, Mr. Carmel’s arguments may remain valid for some time, though for how long is unclear, and whether it is wise to wait for the tipping point is also a valid question. However, when improvements in capabilities that can exponentially increase piracy’s reach and impact are brought into play, especially when that reach means a greater potential as a funding source for our enemies, then the problem of Somali piracy has long since ceased to be one of the balance sheet. Advocacy of Dane-Geld as a means of minimizing such threats has little track record of success, and plenty of examples of a disastrous contrary result. With an adaptive and opportunistic enemy whose benefit from Somali piracy is becoming increasingly more direct, it is well past time to make serious our efforts to combat piracy in those waters.

Once again, that master of describing the human condition provides us a warning passed down through the millenia:

We never pay anyone Dane-Geld,

No matter how trifling the cost,

For the end of that game is oppression and shame,

And the nation that pays it is lost.

From Navy Times:

Navy: Helo fires on pirate skiff, killing 4

By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 18, 2011 12:09:56 EDT

The crew of a Navy helicopter launched from the destroyer Bulkeley fired upon and is believed to have killed four pirates who were in the process of attacking a crude oil carrier while it was transiting the Gulf of Oman on Monday, according to Combined Maritime Forces.

The interdiction took place at 10:35 a.m. local time. The Norfolk, Va.-based Bulkeley, assigned to Joint Task Force 150, had received a mayday call from the German-owned, Panamanian-flagged crude carrier Artemis Glory, which said it was being chased and attacked by pirates.

Bulkeley responded to the mayday call, first heard by a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship and relayed to Combined Maritime Forces, by launching an SH-60B Seahawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Squadron Light 48, Detachment 4, to investigate. When it arrived on station — a command spokesman could not provide the distance or transit time — the crew saw four individuals in a skiff firing at Artemis Glory, using small arms.

The helicopter crew opened fire on the skiff under what command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sam Hearn of the Royal Navy said was the principle of “extended unit self-defense” on behalf of the crude carrier. All four pirates are believed to have been killed, Hearn said. Hearn said he did not know which weapon system was employed but noted that the SH-60B is equipped with a single M-240 machine gun.

Officials do not believe the helicopter was fired upon by the pirates, Hearn said.

Hearn said Bulkeley did not pick up the bodies, and could not say whether the skiff was sunk. Once it was determined that Artemis Glory was out of danger, the ship continued on its way, Hearn said. The ship is transporting a cargo of crude oil from Saudi Arabia to China.

Much better result than the August 2009 incident when pirates fired on a US Navy helicopter, which did not return fire.

Show yourself a pirate, die at the hands of the US Navy.

As the Sikh Havildar in Kipling’s Kim explained when the Indian Holy Man asked him “What profit to kill men?”

“Very little – as I know, but if evil men were not now and then slain, it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers.”

In the movie “The Departed” (or as Maggie would say, “Tha Dapaaaahhhted”), Jack Nicholson’s character of Frank Costello asks the question, “…when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”

That is the sort of question I am asking today. The title of this post references President Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 11905, signed in February of 1976, which contains Item (g) in Section 5:

(g) Prohibition of Assassination. No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.

Ford’s successor, President Jimmy Carter, and Carter’s successor, President Ronald Reagan, both signed similar measures reinforcing the prohibition on political assassination. Ford’s signing of the EO was certainly a “sign of the times” in the post-Vietnam American political landscape, which saw a distaste for the covert, and a distrust of US intelligence activities.

However, when Ford signed his order thirty-five years ago, and Carter (Sect 2-305 of EO 12036) his, 33 years ago, and even when Reagan reasserted those orders (EO 12333) almost thirty years ago, the existence of satellite-guided weapons of such precise lethality as we have today were inconceivable to all but those with the keenest technical imagination.

And there are other changes in the world around us. Then-Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) proposed in January 2001, nine months before the 9/11 attacks, House Resolution 19, known as the Terrorist Elimination Act, which said, in part, “America must continue to investigate effective ways to combat the menace posed by those who would murder American citizens simply to make a political point”.

The attacks in recent weeks on the compound of Libya’s Muammar Ghadaffi have highlighted again the idea that precision weapons may be employed in a role that looks very much like political assassination. (It is not the first time for strikes on the compound of Libya’s ‘strongman’, either, with the El Dorado Canyon strikes of April 1986.)

While the NATO strikes of this past week against Ghaddafi’s compound may or may not have been conducted using US air assets, it is a certainty that US intelligence assets were involved in pre-strike and post-strike assessment. While Defense Secretary Gates maintains that the strikes were not aimed at Ghaffadi himself but at his command and control centers (of which the compound is one), I believe there is also little doubt that the location of the Libyan leader was carefully noted and may have been a determinant in the timing of the strike.

One of the realities which NATO is having to deal with post-strike is that even the most precise strike munitions will kill a great number of people who happen to be at the target. It is being reported that Ghaddafi’s son and some grandchildren were killed in the strike, which may or may not be as true as the reports of Ghaddafi’s “daughter” being killed in 1986. However, it is an opportunity for the Libyan leader to make political hay in the Middle East and in the world press as a victim of NATO persecution.

So the question I pose in the title is precisely the one I want to ask here. Is it time to repeal the Ford-era Executive Order, and those of Carter and Reagan reinforcing that order? We seem to have outlawed killing a leader like Ghaddafi with a sniper’s bullet, or other means of extreme prejudice, but have seen military policy evolve to where the same mission is attempted with a precision-guided munition that produces dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ancillary casualties without the certainty of killing the intended target.

Many foreign policy thinkers at the time of Ford’s signing EO 11905 in to law, and a fair number since, believed Section 5(g) of the law to be either one that would be effectively ignored, or one that would unnecessarily hamstring US leadership in the foreign policy arena by removing an option that was potentially highly useful for any number of reasons. I would submit it has been both of those, and it may be time to consider repeal of Section 5(g).

Because, to paraphrase Frankie Costello, “when you are trying to kill a dictator with missiles or a bullet, what’s the difference?”.

By popular vote, Naval Institute blog wins best Navy Blog from the military blogging conference sponsored by and USAA.

This is entirely due to the guest bloggers who take time (unpaid) to share their voice on this blog and to those who participate in the comments to continue the dialogue…and to all of those who dare to read, think, speak, write, and blog…

In Defense News, US Marine Colonel Mark Desens, CO of 26th MEU currently operating off the coast of Libya, had some very interesting and incisive comments regarding the need for the F-35B STOVL variant of the JSF.

Desens and others noted that the F-35B would be a vast improvement over the Harrier. Not only does it carry more weapons and fuel, its sensors allow it to target enemy air defenses and vacuum up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and feed it back to the fleet.

“When you look at the capabilities of the F-35B and how much it expands the tool box, that aircraft is going to push us way out in front of any future potential threats out there,” the colonel said.

Read the full article here.

But what really jumps out from Col Desens’ comments is the possibility that a smaller aircraft carrier with such a weapon as the F-35B could have efficacy as an alternative to the traditional supercarrier that has been the sole contestant in the US Navy’s aircraft carrier building arena since the commissioning of the Forrestals in the late 1950s.

More from Colonel Desens:

“It would be lovely to have an aircraft carrier here, but there are not enough to go round,” said Col. Mark Desens, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which operates the AV-8Bs aboard the Kearsarge. “What we do have is the opportunity to do a lot of things with this vessel, and we are accomplishing a tremendous return on investment with these six STOVL jets.”

He continues:

“With an AV-8B or an F-35B, you get an immediate ability to start impacting a wide range of things,” Desens said. “As you look down the road, the need for a STOVL jet sells itself, because you are not going to get more aircraft carriers. An F-35B costs a lot less than a carrier.”Desens noted that a STOVL jet can also move ashore with troops as they push farther away from the beachhead, landing and flying from far smaller patches of ground than regular fixed-wing planes.

“You have tremendous operational flexibility if you are going to do a projected land war, like Iraq and Afghanistan, where those jets were sea-based…”

The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class super-carrier has been the symbol of US Naval power and influence for nearly four decades. However, the price tag for such vessels will continue to rise. The first of its class USS Gerald R. Ford is projected to cost upwards of $10 billion. While the Nimitz-class is expected to soldier on for several more decades, operating costs of the 102,000-ton, 5,000-sailor behemoths will continue to be a serious concern in this era of fiscal austerity.

With each crisis anywhere on the globe that involves US interests, the question that is invariably posed is “where are the carriers?”; the latest instance being a mere two weeks ago off Libya. But, does every situation in which the question is asked have to be answered with a Carrier Battle Group built around a CVN? Is it necessary to bring the extremely high-end solution to low- and medium- threat problems? Is that now what we see with billion dollar warships chasing pirate skiffs off Somalia?

During the Second World War, smaller flattops provided air assets to amphibious assaults and other operations in what we now describe as the Littoral, such as is being conducted in Libya at present. There were myriad reasons for this, but the predominant was the desire not to risk the trump cards, the Fleet Carriers, in confined waters and within range of enemy land-based weapons systems, any more than necessary. One would think a 21st century corollary of that rule is still a good idea in today’s A2/AD environment, particularly as we look to the western Pacific.

With the building of the America (LHA-6) class of amphibs, it is possible that the Navy has itself a hull form that could be adapted for the role of smaller aircraft carrier. At 45,000 tons, 844 feet long, with a beam of 106 feet, the Americas will be very similar in dimension, though with a higher displacement, to the famous Essex-class carriers of World War II, one might hesitate to label such a “light carrier”. Perhaps, in a redux of previous nomenclature, the former term “attack carrier” (CVA) seems most descriptive. As General Amos, Marine Commandant, noted in January of this year in a speech to the Surface Navy Association, the America class LHA is already “maximized for aviation” already. So let’s take the next step of logic.

An adaptation of that warship class, one dedicated to Naval and USMC STOVL aviation assets, one that does NOT have an amphibious mission, doesn’t require billeting for 1,700 Marines and their equipment, that doesn’t have a requirement for V-22 or attack helicopters as a part of its organic air component (but still capable of handling them if desired), a warship like that could prove exceedingly handy and valuable to a fleet which may be looking at a shortage of its heavyweights.

Of course, the obvious argument about efficiency of sorties is a consideration, but would a warship with a complement of STOVL fighters of the capabilities expected of the F-35B create a new baseline for measuring such efficiency of sortie generation? Would 60-65 aircraft still remain the minimum aircraft complement for efficient operation? I would love to see some projections using the F-35B to that end. The speed of the Americas might have to be enhanced, as the 22-knot capability may or may not be sufficient, but options may be available for more powerful propulsion systems to achieve desired speeds.

In addition, operating costs of such a ship would very likely be significantly less. A crew of 1,000-1,200 Officers and Sailors, with a suitably-sized air component is less than half that of the 4,500-5,000 complement of the Nimitz/Ford CVNs.

If the number of CVNs in commission shrinks to 9 or even 8 in the coming decade, which is a distinct possibility, we are left with a shortage of assets to cover a world-wide commitment. When the question is asked again, as it will be, “Where are the carriers?”, there are two answers that we should take great pains to avoid.

The first is “Rusting away in Philadelphia.”

The second is “Busy elsewhere, and not coming.”

A STOVL-dedicated CVA based on the America-class LHA may provide a cost-effective and combat capable alternative to the CVBG that may or may not be available when we need it. If we are to maintain a global power projection presence, as the Maritime Strategy asserts, the approach offered here deserves more scholarship than it has been given.

I was rather surprised to see that CDR Salamander took what I considered idle, but pointed comments to one of his posts here at USNI, and wrote a piece over at his place.

I was so new to the Navy when I first heard the term ‘1000 Ship Navy’, that I hardly knew my way from my berthing to my work center aboard SAN. I read all the blog postings about it back in 2007, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it. But, in seeing how my old Ship and others functioned in CTF 151 in 2009, how EUNAVFOR operates in the Indian Ocean, as well as the Indians, Russians, Chinese and others all in an ‘effort’ against piracy, I started to notice a similarity between the words I had read on the 1000 ship navy and what I saw seeing. With the assembled ships and aircraft from many NATO Nations as well as the aircraft from the UAE and Qatar, I am again seeing actions that mirror then CNO Mullen’s words.

Membership in this ‘navy’ is purely voluntary and would have no legal or encumbering ties. It would be a free-form, self-organizing network of maritime partners — good neighbors interested in using the power of the sea to unite, rather than to divide. The barriers for entry are low. Respect for sovereignty is high.

While adding the NATO dimension to operations off Libya, the notion of the fleet being ‘free-form, self-organizing’ is not exactly applicable, the rest of the quote is still rather accurate in terms of how hostilities began off Libya.

To start, I do not think the term 1,000 ship navy is the right term to use. That name itself is antithetical to Admiral Mullen’s words in that he said,”Respect for sovereignty is high.” After all, a Navy is defined as “the whole body of warships and auxiliaries belonging to a country or ruler”. Where as the definition of fleet, “the largest organized unit of naval ships grouped for tactical or other purposes”. What Admiral Mullen was proposing was never a navy, it was a fleet at best.

Alliances of any form, or even just bilateral security agreements between nations are a difficult thing. The ever changing political calculus of each government involved is something that can defy the abilities of even the best statesmen in holding an alliance together. A situation that would warrant the vast array of nations to muster the strength to find enough common ground in bringing their combined maritime forces to constitute a single navy (or fleet) is on par with the World Wars–not a possible reality that is likely enough to warrant such an initiative to become the cornerstone of US Naval Operations.

More well put would be the notion of a Complex Adaptive Fleet (CAF) [note: I called it a Complex Adaptive System Fleet, in the comments. But, The term I use here is less of a mouthful.]. I call it complex, because of the myriad of different Standard Operating Procedures that each ship brings to the fleet. I use the term Adaptive, because the fleet is being joined based on the demands of the specific operation. The number of hulls made available to the fleet, as well as the number of nations contributing to the fleet are not the point, so there is no reason to reference any numbers in the terminology for such a fleet. The marketing, design and grandeur placed on the 1,000 ship navy is what made the initiative a nonstarter.

At the highest levels of World Navies is where this initiative was espoused. But, it is from the highest levels of national power where such an initiative has to be started and implemented, as it has been off the coasts of Libya and Somalia. What the then CNO was looking to do was only a Naval matter in a secondary sense. Primarily, what the initiative looks to do, is increase the amount of cooperation at the highest levels of government, and it is there that the most amount of work is needed to improve our ability to operate in such a manner. We already practice the skills needed to operate in a fleet such as a CAF, we do so by war games with allied and friendly nations and in personnel exchanges. The only place where such an initiative such as a CAF would have a noticeable impact on doctrine is at the level of government where people don’t wear uniforms any more.

At this point I should be clear. For the US Navy today, in terms of power projection or in terms of war at sea a la WWII we do not truly require any allies. However, putting holes in ships and Tomahawks on land isn’t all there is to war fighting. Hell, there isn’t even much fighting to war fighting at sea any more (that is not to say that such a reality can’t change in a heartbeat). The ‘everything else’ in war fighting has to be included. The reality is that for any conflict at sea we are likely to see we will need something like a UN Security Council Resolution. I will also say that the current operations off of Libya set a precedent that Mediterranean operations will demand NATO involvement. The causes of this reality are not so much the waning power of the US, as much as it is stronger regional powers (stronger politically, if not militarily). Isn’t warfare just the continuation of politics? If so, then how we operate in conflict must be in accordance with the political realities of where we are operating — which means allies and partners are required. Which means the banalities of an alliance are as necessary to put up with, work through and make the best of, as the Sun in Kandahar was for me a few months back.

By stating all of this, I do not mean to say that clear objectives are not required for operations. Or that a logical unified command structure is no longer a necessity. What I am stating here is nothing more than the political realities I’ve found in nearly every operation the United States has been engaged in since… Well, most of my life. Again, I do not feel that the US Navy or most other navies have much they need to change in terms of doctrine, not yet at least. On the part of the Navy, I view this as a continuation of the resistance to joint operations a few decades back. But, at the higher civilian levels, I do think there is much work to be done. Where as we have certain tripwires that trigger different responses aboard ships, we also need well defined tripwires geo-politically which trigger certain steps in any escalation of force against a common threat that nations face. As we in the military have preplanned courses of action against potential enemies, we need more planning at the political level between sovereign governments, so that operational caveats are not done in such an ad hoc and clumsy manor when operations should have started days/weeks ago. A notion such as the CAF does not lend itself well to anything beyond what we are seeing today in Libya or Somalia. It is a methodology best suited for sudden turns of events that demand quick action by nations and, as such shouldn’t be considered for anything outside of low intensity conflicts.

None of it would be easy to work out, nor do I have complete faith that such arrangements can be pulled off politically. But, as I said, the only think I think I am doing here is pointing out what I’ve seen as a reality, and offering how to do what we’ve already been doing, better.

Proceedings, May 1923, Volume 49, Number 5, Whole Number 243

When I was informed by Colonel Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, that I was to be invited to go to Boston and speak to this distinguished audience I must confess to experiencing a feeling of dismay such as I have rarely felt in the presence of much graver danger. This feeling was prompted not so much by my sense of inexperience in public speaking, or doubt of your kindly forbearance, as by the thought that while this would be a wonderful opportunity to present the case for the Navy to an audience whose influence might in the future prove a factor in determining the course of our naval policy, my failure to enlist your interest in the problems of the Navy would be a matter of abiding regret.

The reasons why you should stand firmly in support of the Navy are to me so obvious that I hope no eloquence of mine will be necessary to convince you, once you are in possession of the facts.

What I have to say to you is wholly from the national standpoint. That is the standpoint of the Navy. The Navy is not concerned with party politics. It exists only as an arm of the executive authority whether that authority be Democratic or Republican. We are not interested in the political rivalries of states, or districts, or counties, or municipalities. Of all those things the average voter knows a great deal more than I do. But when our average voter speaks of America as a nation and considers the rights, duties and interests of America as one of a family of nations, a family with many conflicting and discordant interests, his ignorance is apt to be alarming. I think you will agree with me when I say that but a small fraction of our citizens are qualified to cast an intelligent vote, on any international question, with any clear understanding of the issues involved. I fear that only a few hundred thousand out of our twenty odd million of voters are sufficiently informed to cast a vote that would conserve our national interests and yet the safety of our country must necessarily rest on the knowledge and intelligence of our electorate.

If popular government is not to fail, our voters cannot take up too soon the earnest study of their duties and responsibilities as citizens of America. Our country has become so vast and so diversified in its interests that those voters capable of taking a broad national view of our necessities are in danger of sharing the fate of the dodo. Yet statesmen can accomplish little without your support.

John J. Ingalls once defined a statesman as a successful politician who is dead. We need support for those good men in office who are earnestly striving to be statesmen while yet alive.

I know of no nobler mission for our newly enfranchised women than to start a crusade for better national citizenship, and I know of no better center for such a crusade than this splendid old city of Boston that has cradled so many of our national ideals.

But I am to speak to you of the Navy and surely the Navy’s interests are the country’s interests.

One of the principal reasons for the adoption of our Constitution was to provide for the common defense. Our fathers decided in their wisdom to provide one Army and one Navy to defend all the people in common, so the Navy belongs to the people as a whole. Each of you is a stockholder in this great organization. Its property is valued at over three billions of dollars. It is not only your right but your duty to share in its management.

Now why should a Navy exist at all? If we go back to first principles, in order to live and prosper we must have law and order. To have law and order, society must be organized and live under some system. As the world is still inhabited by all kinds of people, good, bad, and indifferent, and not as yet by God’s white angels, it is necessary that certain physical sanctions be provided to insure obedience to the law. Even the most primitive rural community has in addition to its law book and its justice of the peace, a constable. Now just as in our domestic relations we must have our federal, state, and municipal police, so in our international relations there must be provided an Army and Navy as a physical sanction of our international laws, conventions, treaties, and policies. Any other conclusion would involve an absurdity. For if, in dealing with each other in our most highly civilized communities we must still rely upon force to guarantee us our just rights, how can we expect to do without force and yet obtain justice from strangers whose interests are not our interests, and who quite naturally are seeking their own advantage? More than one statesman has said “our foreign policy is as strong as the Navy and no stronger.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Not since 1820 has a US jury carried a piracy conviction. That changed yesterday when five Somali men found guilty of attacking the USS Nicholas were sentenced to life in prison in a Norfolk Federal Court. The sentencing might be a drop in the bucket given the current piracy endemic, but was nonetheless a significant step forward – symbolically and legally – in the fight that wages daily off the Horn off Africa.

The pirates’ defense centered on the claim that they had been abducted and forced to fire their weapons on the Nicholas. Judge Mark Davis ruled in favor of the government and sentenced the men to life in prison plus an additional 80 years for the use of illegal firearms. Life in prison is a tough but reasonable (and in fact, mandatory) sentence considering piracy is a universal crime (the legal cousin of slavery and genocide), and that the last convicted pirate that stood before a US court for sentencing was put to death.

US Attorney Neil MacBride led a landmark case not only because his conviction demonstrates to the American people that the US Navy is determined to interdict and arrest pirates at sea, but also to the world that the US Justice Department is willing and able to prosecute and convict pirates at home.

This sentence also sends a message back to the pirate camps that litter the Somalian coast: if you attack a US ship, you will be captured and jailed for life. Or, as has been the fate of at least two pirates on the Quest and Maersk Alabama in the past two years, worse.

And the Justice Department isn’t done with pirates yet.

Fourteen suspected pirates have recently been indicted by a federal grand jury for their involvement in the attack on the yacht Quest which resulted in the murder of Jean and Scott Adam, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle. They will face piracy, kidnapping and firearms charges. Currently there are no murder charges as the investigation is on-going.

While the legal impact of this case is indeed in the landmark realm, it’s true the immediate impact of the Nicholas convictions will be nominal with respect to the number of attacks in the short term. It does, however, send an important political message to other nations with a stake in security in the region in the mid to long term. With nearly 800 Somali pirates in prisons in 14 different countries awaiting trial (and hundreds more simply released due to the legal complexity of such cases) the message from the US is this: piracy is an intolerable crime whose thugs will be prosecuted vigilantly and convicted to full extent of the law.

Will other nations that patrol these troubled waters with us follow course?

Surely, many of you are familiar with the news of four Americans who were captured when their vessel the S/V QUEST by pirates a couple days ago while sailing their yacht through pirate-infested waters. This morning their voyage ended.

In a statement, US Central Command said that negotiations were underway between the US Navy and the pirates, when the US forces heard gunfire coming from the Quest about 0600GMT.

They boarded the ship, killing two pirates in the process, and discovered the four Americans shot. The US Navy sailors attempted to provide first aid but the hostages died, the military said.

“As they responded to the gunfire, reaching and boarding the Quest, the forces discovered all four hostages had been shot by their captors,” Gen James Mattis of US Central Command Commander said in a statement.

“We express our deepest condolences for the innocent lives callously lost aboard the Quest,” the statement added.

The US Navy captured 13 pirates, and found the remains of two other pirates already dead about the vessel, the US military said. – BBC News

I have to say that I am surprised to hear this news, partly because you think that God might be watching over them given the bible mission that they were conducting. But relying on God to protect you as you plan to travel through pirate-infested waters is no plan at all. After-all the pirates pray to God too and are holding hundreds of seafarers hostage, not to mention a ship full of yachts whose owners were not interested in sailing through the area on their own. Their website makes no mention of the threat of pirates in their 2011 travel plans (page here). But given that pirates have been taking vessels as a revenue-generating scheme, and that live prisoners are worth lots more than dead ones, I just expected them to either end up ashore and hidden in Somalia or wait it out while the US Navy prevents them from taking them ashore.

I am not sure what the lessons are to be learned here that are not already known. But for the benefit of those still tempted to run the gauntlet, here is a reminder:

  • Yachts are extremely vulnerable
  • Even if the Navy comes to your rescue, it very well might be too late
  • The close quarters of a yacht keep you in close contact with pirates at all times, including during any attempt to retake the vessel
  • Pirates are very willing to kill their captives
  • If attacked, it is extremely important to keep the pirates from getting access to the crew

Piracy in the area is spreading and turning into a free-for-all for the pirates. The game is over for the 13 the Navy caught while retaking the vessel, but the pirates seem to be running the board at the moment.

So, what criminal charges do the 13 face back in the US and might the death penalty be on the table?


Here is confirmation that they knew what they were sailing into:

Friends of a US couple aboard a yacht hijacked off Somalia on Friday say the pair knew their journey was risky, but were determined to press on with their Christian mission.

In an email sent days before they went missing, Scott and Jean Adam described plans to stay out of touch to hide their location from pirates. – BBC News

Three more very important lessons here:

  • You can’t hide from pirates in the open ocean. It’s like trying to hide in the middle of an empty football field.
  • The pirates are most likely to be where you want them least.
  • Help is least likely to be where you want it most. A warship 30 miles away is an hour away from helping you. (outside of helo assistance)

Much of the conversation about the USMC over the last decade has been about its “Second Land Army” status …. well …. Marines are still second to none at their core skill set. In case someone forgot that – fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and my guest this week on Midrats and his Marines reminded everyone of not just that – but the power of the Navy-Marine Corp team.

Over a 48 hour period , the 15th MEU/PELARG team conducted offensive air operations in Afghanistan resulting in the deaths of 5 confirmed enemy fighters, provided disaster relief in Pakistan to 120 victims who had been without aid since July, and seized a pirated vessel, rescuing a crew of 11 hostages and detaining 9 suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Yep – it is a USNIBlogg’r Fest on Midrats; our guest will be Captain Alexander Martin, USMC – the leader of the team that took back The Magellan Star, and a someone whose work you can find here on USNIBlog. A sample:

The Magellan Star: Pirate Takedown, Force Recon Style by Capt. Alexander Martin

Pirates Beware: Force Recon Really Does Have Your Number


A 2004 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, his career has been dominated by the Long War. It is that perspective and experience that EagleOne and I will tap in to today, Sunday 30 JAN 2011 from 5-6pm EST. From Piracy to proper manning and equipping our Marines – we’ll try to run the spectrum.

Join us live if you can, and pile in with the usual suspects in the chat room during the show where you can offer your own questions and observations to our guests. If you miss the show or want to catch up on the shows you missed – you can always reach the archives at blogtalkradio – or set yourself to get the podcast on iTunes.

« Older Entries Newer Entries »