Martin Murphy, a piracy expert at the Center for Foreign Policy Studies, believes that Somali pirates are the biggest threat to the peaceful use of the sea since the Second World War. These pirates have attacked as far south as Madagascar and as far west as India. He argues that the number of naval ships protecting commercial ships near Somalia is like four policemen patrolling an area the size of Texas.
What do we do? I don’t think putting armed personnel on commercial ships will reduce piracy. First, approximately 11% of the world’s shipping passes through the Gulf of Aden. Arming enough ships to make the pirates think twice before attacking would be extremely expensive. Second, this is the Wild West. No rules of engagement exist for when we can attack the pirates and who can attack them. Imagine the uproar if a private security contractor killed an innocent Somali fisherman whom he suspected of piracy. And no one knows what to do with the pirates captured on the High Seas (technically, a U.S. Navy ship captain can hang the pirate from the yardarm, though that’s not going to happen). Lastly, Somalia’s per capita G.D.P. is $600. Averaging about $5 million per ship taken provides a huge incentive for Somali pirates to continue pirating.
Currently, we only react to piracy after the pirates have taken a ship- like the Maersk Alabama incident or the recent kidnapping of an American couple sailing around the world. The only long term solution to Somali piracy is to restore Somalia’s economy and ensure Somalia has a stable government. After the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, the U.S. gave up on restoring the country. Dr. Murphy, the piracy expert, believes that Somali pirates have more sanctuary on land than any other pirates in modern times. Until a 2008 U.N. Resolution, the U.S. could not legally take the fight to the land. By encouraging legal industries like farming and fishing, the U.S. could reduce the number of Somalis who steal ships to merely to survive.
In conclusion, Somali pirates are not terrorists. They terrorize ships’ crews when they attack, and they kill civilians. But their motives for taking ships are purely mercenary. Terrorists, on the other hand, work to enact some type of religious or political change. Somalia may harbor Al-Qaeda cells because they are a failed state, not because the pirates want global jihad. The U.S. government does not list Somali pirates as terrorists; we should not fight them as such.