THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s with the Somali Pirates?

Strange Inaction in the Indian Ocean

I’m the loudmouth pundit. I’m supposed to have the answers, or at least pretend to. This week, however, I’m baffled. Confused, even. So I’m turning the tables to ask you, dear reader: Why aren’t we bombing the crap out of Somalia’s pirates?

I don’t get it. You can’t build a house in Waziristan or throw a wedding in Afghanistan without drawing a blizzard of Hellfire missiles. We bomb aspirin factories, hospitals and schools. We employ bad-ass Special Forces types and psycho mercenaries who set up freelance torture operations and supervise mass executions. We Americans have our faults, but wimpy pacifism isn’t one of them. So what’s with these pirates?

In June 2007, a French warship witnessed the Danica White, a Danish merchant vessel carrying a crew of just five men, being hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The French, reported the Navy Times, “could not cross into Somali territorial waters to offer help.” Which is confusing, what with Somalia being a failed state without a viable central government and all. Who was going to stop them—the Somali coast guard?

Somalia’s territorial waters? Sacrosanct! Invade Iraq, invade Afghanistan, try to overthrow the president of Venezuela, send CIA agents into the Iranian desert to case their nuke plants, blast cars on highways in Yemen, no problem. But for God’s sake, leave Somalia alone! National sovereignty matters!

An American dock landing ship was also on the scene of the Danica White shipjacking. “The USS Carter Hall fired flares and several shots across the bow as well as several disabling shots at the three skiffs in tow,” said a navy spokesman. Across the bow? Why didn’t they blow them to smithereens? “But the hijacked Danica White made it into Somali waters and the Carter Hall had to back off and watch,” reported Navy Times. “We’re observing them at this point,” said the navy spokesman afterward. “It’s ongoing.”

There’s a lot of observing going on off Somalia. At this writing, at least 14 ships and 250 crewmembers are being held “a few miles off a 230-mile stretch of Somali coastline between Xarardheere and the town of Eyl,” reports The New York Times. These include the Sirius Star, a thousand-feet-long Saudi oil tanker, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying enough Soviet tanks, anti-aircraft guns and other weaponry to get you a start as a respectable warlord. An international flotilla, including American navy ships, are watching the situation—and doing jack.

We know why George W. Bush never tried to catch Osama bin Laden; he must have been worried he’d be captured alive and talk about his relationship with the CIA. But what do the Somali pirates have on Bush, the president of Ukraine, and the king of Saudi Arabia? What explains their reluctance to rain hot death on these privateers? Do the pirates plant hot Somali babes to seduce heads of state?

While we’re asking questions, why don’t ships that ply the pirate-infested waters south of the Gulf of Aden take security precautions? “For insurance and safety reasons, most crews on commercial ships do not carry weapons,” says the Times. Weird. You’d think the Ukrainians might have at least been able to break into their own cargo to shoot back.

So far the most delicious coverage of this uncharacteristic display of military restraint has been a Times article bearing the headline “U.S. Urges Merchant Ships to Try Steps to Foil Pirates.” The U.S. Navy, it said, was encouraging ships that travel near Somalia to employ “measures that did not involve the use of force” to avoid getting taken over. “The techniques,” said the paper, “include complicated rudder movements and speed adjustments that make it hard for pirate speedboats to pull alongside, as well as simple steps like pulling up ladders that some ships leave dangling for an entire voyage.”

Complicated rudder movements. Ladders that hang off the side of the ship. Duh.

It’s like seeing someone walking around with money falling out of their pockets. Maybe they want the pirates to come aboard. I’m no pirate, but even I would be tempted to take over a ship with a skeleton crew, unarmed “for insurance and safety reasons,” dangling its ladders. Such teases!

I understand why the Somalis do it. Piracy is big business in Somalia. In fact, it’s the only good business. Kenya’s foreign minister says Somali pirates have collected $150 million in ransoms so far this year. “All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you’re millionaires,” Abdullahi Omar Qawden, an ex-captain in Somalia’s navy told the Times. What I don’t understand is why we, and so many other countries, put up with it.

In the old days, seizing a ship marked by a national flag was an insult and act of war. In 1803 pirates of the Barbary States, city-states along the north coast of Africa in the Mediterranean that were nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, captured the U.S.S. Philadelphia and held its crew hostage. President Thomas Jefferson asked Congress for and received authorization to dispatch sailors and marines to the port of Tripoli, where the ship was being held. To deny its use to the Tripolitans U.S. forces burned it and captured the city. It was America’s first foreign military operation.

We’re killing Afghan brides. We’re paying off Somali pirates. What has happened to us?

COPYRIGHT 2008 TED RALL

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44 Responses to “THIS WEEK’S SYNDICATED COLUMN: What’s with the Somali Pirates?”

  1. G. M. Palmer Says:

    Best question ever.

    I think it might have something to do with international/national waters but that seems an awfully weak excuse.

    The only question left to ask is always the most important one: cui bono?

  2. Thomas Daulton Says:

    Naaahhhhh, you see, we “owe” the Somalis one for bombing their aspirin/vaccination plant a decade and a half ago. So Clinton gave a secret executive order that we have to actually use restraint when dealing with the Somalis “next time” there’s a big international incident. Yeah, that’s it, it’s all Clinton’s fault! “Somali War Syndrome” has crippled this country far too long!

  3. Thomas Daulton Says:

    Naaahhhhh, you see, we “owe” the Somalis one for bombing their aspirin/vaccination plant a decade and a half ago. So Clinton gave a secret executive order that we have to actually use restraint when dealing with the Somalis “next time” there’s a big international incident. Yeah, that’s it, it’s all Clinton’s fault! “Somali War Syndrome” has crippled this country far too long!

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you, Ted. These questions and the absence of them in the media (aside from a few editorial cartoons) have been puzzling me, too. The apparent position of “pirates will be pirates – deal with it” seems totally out of sync with what we’ve come to expect from the powers that be. Especially since each ransom hugely increases the opportunity for more pirate successes. WTF??

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Ted,

    I was thinking about this exact same thing weeks ago. This piracy is nothing new. I try to follow piracy all over the world, it used to happen in China a lot.

    Maybe Americans are scared of Somalia. I would be too. We went in there and the leadership let us down. I don’t think anyone wants to go into Somalia with lackluster leadership.

    Why aren’t we bombing the ships. Honestly, I wish I knew. It makes absolutely no sense.

    For someone who carries a concealed weapon with a permit, it also makes no sense to me to go into a dangerous part of town without it. So why don’t these crews have full auto assault weapons.

    Not to get on another rant, but its the same example with the Virginia Appalachian School of Law and Virginia Tech.

    Anyways, but the whole tips they could use to keep pirates away. It makes the U.S. Navy sound like Martha Stewart. What they need is a crew trained in naval combat or at least how to shoot.

    Trust me those people who were boarded and then summarily executed didn’t think to themselves, “Gee, I am so glad that we aren’t armed.”

  6. Erik Z Says:

    The reason why they’re letting the pirates get away with it is same reason Goldfinger tried to blow up fort Knox in James Bond. To inflate prices. Ransom is a small price to pay in order to drive the price of oil from it’s current $50 a barrel back up to good ‘ol $150 or higher.

    Just give it time. They’ll steal another $100 million dollar oil tanker and use it as an excuse to raise prices. The pirates get their ransom, the oilmen get higher prices. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

  7. Erik Z Says:

    The reason why they’re letting the pirates get away with it is same reason Goldfinger tried to blow up fort Knox in James Bond. To inflate prices. Ransom is a small price to pay in order to drive the price of oil from it’s current $50 a barrel back up to good ‘ol $150 or higher.

    Just give it time. They’ll steal another $100 million dollar oil tanker and use it as an excuse to raise prices. The pirates get their ransom, the oilmen get higher prices. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Follow the money. What possible profit, other than for the Somali pirates, could there be from inaction? The real question of the day is, if the story about Ann Coulter’s jaw being wired up is true, what more likely reason could there be other than the bullshit accidental fall she allegedly took? If Coulter isn’t suing someone, then she was punched by someone close, not a stranger with a pie. Ann Coulter may very well be a closet battered woman (most times, Coulter resembles a transsexual, and someone should chack that out). I think someone close, if that’s possible, to Coulter, finally had enough and really let her have it right in the mouth. I’d like to believe that Coulter will not press charges, will accept her lover back, and the cycle will repeat itself many, many, many times over.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Ted, don’t be a dumb ass! bush, is simply trying to stimulate the Somali, economy by injecting millions in pay offs. Can’t you see? It’s Somali, trickle down theory! Otherwise yes, the good ol’ U.S.of A. should send in the seals and “clean house”. We could then demand ransom and help our own economy!

  10. Anonymous Says:

    Ted, don’t be a dumb ass! bush, is simply trying to stimulate the Somali, economy by injecting millions in pay offs. Can’t you see? It’s Somali, trickle down theory! Otherwise yes, the good ol’ U.S.of A. should send in the seals and “clean house”. We could then demand ransom and help our own economy!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Your answer is here. Either the word “Somalia” brings back bad images for American troops and officers. And some western navies don’t want somalis going free in their countries and seeking “asylum”. Basically rules of engagement are the primary problem for most people when it comes to tackling Somalian prirates.

    For the rest of you smartass american readers, who can’t see beyond your provincial selves , except to quip mercilessly at any one who disagrees with you; here is Gwynne Dyer, an intelligent military historian and experienced journalist:

    http://www.straight.com/article-172229/gwynne-dyer-cooperation-needed-stop-somali-pirates

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  12. Anonymous Says:

    Afghan brides aren’t worth anything. Ships full of cargo are, at least in the eyes of the accountants who run the companies and their political flunkies. the ransoms, undoubtedly, are written off as a business expense.

  13. Susan Stark Says:

    Well, Ted, one country seems to be doing something about it.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7736885.stm

    Thank God for India.

    I wish I knew what was going on too. All I can think of is that the pirates are giving a cut of their take to someone else. But who? It doesn’t make sense.

  14. fizzle Says:

    India may have been mistaken…
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7749245.stm

  15. Anonymous Says:

    This is BLOODY unfair. I posted ASAP about what was going on, with my direct link to Gwynne Dyer’s article. And YOU let Mizz Stark get the first post in.

    And the reason is simple:

    1) RULES OF ENGAGEMENT.

    Thats the problem the Allies/NATO/US are having in Afghanistan with thirty countries there with thirty different rules of engagement gumming up counter-insurgency.

    2) Its SOMALIA

    Remember “Black Hawk Down”? So does every body else in Washington. And for some reason, when an extended meme of defeat (like lets say VIETNAM) gets inside your media-addled minds, its sticks there like a craw. So its ok to green light an Ethiopian invasion into Somalia, but direct involvement is discouraged by the narrative of defeat that rings with that name.

    3) ITS AT SEA

    All the events Rall cited involving USAF and the CIA were on land and air. At sea, there are no precedents for piracy in this century and the last.

    And I repeat (this is what probably got my post slowed down before Mizz Stark’s) you Americans are provincial, you have trouble accepting new inforation from unapproved sources (whether that be CNN for the masses, or the colunmist whose blog you regularly post on); You don’t try and look for NEW sources of information beyond your established ones. This is why this Somalia thing caught you unawares.

    Here take my sources:

    http://www.ericmargolis.com/political_commentaries/pirates-of-somalia.aspx

    http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mahir/mahir.htm

    http://www.straight.com/article-172229/gwynne-dyer-cooperation-needed-stop-somali-pirates

    With The Deepest Contempt For The Ignorance of the Rulers of My Planet (AKA The American Voter)

    Y_S

    PAKISTAN

  16. Anonymous Says:

    “giving a cut of their take to someone else”

    And, yeah Stark, its this kind of bloody conspiracy theorising that I’m talking about. Speculation. Snide, Quippy, Unsubstantiated Speculation is what the left (and the loony Libertarian Right) in America have in common.

    For a change, why don’t you BRING SOME FUCKING INFORMATION to the Table.

    You American commentators can’t be bothered to dig up your own news sources and check them for reliability.

    You rely on Rall, the New York Times, or whatever accredited news source to bring you the news. SEARCH for things on your Own.

    THEN quip and speculate all you bloody want.

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  17. Anonymous Says:

    “If a call for volunteers to repeat that effort (in 1992/3, in Somalia) were to be sent out to UN member states today, an epidemic of diplomatic deafness would sweep the world.”

    – Gwynne Dyer

    http://www.straight.com/article-172229/gwynne-dyer-cooperation-needed-stop-somali-pirates

    These People are SCARED of direct involvement with Somalia. South Asians excepted.

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  18. Anonymous Says:

    “If a call for volunteers to repeat that effort (in 1992/3, in Somalia) were to be sent out to UN member states today, an epidemic of diplomatic deafness would sweep the world.”

    – Gwynne Dyer

    http://www.straight.com/article-172229/gwynne-dyer-cooperation-needed-stop-somali-pirates

    These People are SCARED of direct involvement with Somalia. South Asians excepted.

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  19. Hairhead Says:

    Ted, in this case, I agree with you 110%.

    I have NO fucking idea why nothing is being done. I have no idea at all. None.

    It is truly inexplicable.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    It is my understanding that the crews remain on the ships even when they are near shore. As such, attempts to take them would result in the loss of human life we are ostensibly seeking to avoid.

    Further, the only other powerful group in Somalia are Muslim clerics, and it is possible we have chose to tolerate the pirates as a more acceptable alternative, at least in the opinion of the current administration. Sort of like the mujahideen to the soviets, back before the mujahideen got out of control…

  21. Edward Says:

    Naw, it’s that the current administration see’s a kindred spirit of gun point capitalism in the pirates! “Go get’em you new up and coming non Islamic Pirates!”

  22. Edward Says:

    Naw, it’s that the current administration see’s a kindred spirit of gun point capitalism in the pirates! “Go get’em you new up and coming non Islamic Pirates!”

  23. Edward Says:

    @anonymous:
    so where are you seeing the the pirates are executing ship crew?

    Most stories I read is that they are being treated well.

    If there was armed resistance, then there would be more of a chance of the crew being executed.

  24. Anonymous Says:

    More fucking speculation, and as usual no hyperlinks to back it up…SHEESH!

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  25. Anonymous Says:

    More fucking speculation, and as usual no hyperlinks to back it up…SHEESH!

    Y_S

    Pakistan

  26. devil Says:

    LOL @ the crybaby “i’m smarter than anyone else in the world so click on MY link instead of susan’s” Paki!!

    ted, what is it about you and your blog that attracts such a wide range of weirdos?

  27. Angelo Says:

    these are rather small time pirates.

  28. Angelo Says:

    these are rather small time pirates.

  29. Angelo Says:

    “…And YOU let Mizz Stark get the first post in.”

    Y_S, thanks thanks thanks for all of the links!!!
    but I must say that you are the only consipracy theorist here today.

    You talk about “rules of engagement” and “precedent” as if we are in a court room. Get real. Nothing is gumming up the US’ ability to act.

    We know the value of good information here, but using ones brain is just as important as good info. Try not to blast people for thinking.

  30. Incitatus Says:

    Thomas,

    Wasn’t that “aspirin factory” in Sudan, then chosen haven of UBL?

  31. The Reverend Mr. Smith Says:

    Like you mentioned, the US Navy was basically founded on the idea of blowing muslim Pirates out of the water. The only reason for “our” inaction that I can think of is that we’re scared shitless of Somalia, for some reason.

  32. Anonymous Says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!!

    Dorme bene…

  33. RonP Says:

    I think this may have something to do with it:

    “The Baltic Dry Index . . . track(s) the price of shipping bulk cargo — such as coal, iron ore, cotton and grain.

    Recently, the Baltic Dry Index has fallen through the floor. It has slumped by nearly 95% over the past five months. In real dollar terms, at the peak of the market in June, a 170,000-tonne Capesize bulk carrier cost USD 233,988 to rent. Recently, it was available for USD 4,793 – that is a crash of 98% and is below the cost of paying for crew, insurance, maintenance and lubricants.

  34. Anonymous Says:

    “Who was going to stop them—the Somali coast guard?”

    Basically the pirates came to be because the coast guard was not there to stop foreigners poaching their fish.

    Now it’s more of a Robin Hood thing.

    According to what I’ve read, they treat the hostages well. Quite popular with the civilians too.

    Also, they are disliked by the Al Qaeda set. You’re with them or the pirates, sort of thing.

    Should the US or its proxies go after them, it would unify pretty much all of Somalia, and not in a good way.

  35. Anonymous Says:

    When in doubt, FTO (follow the oil.)

    There are no proven reserves in Somalia, but oil seeps there were known in colonial times.

    In addition, it is a major “choke point” for sea traffic in the region. Strategically, control of Somalia goes a long way toward control of oil, especially that headed to China.

    False flag? It wouldn’t be the first time in this administration.

    Or, might we try to recoup what we lost in Afghanistan and Iraq by establishing control of Somalia?

    I don’t know, but it’s good to FTO.

  36. Anonymous Says:

    When in doubt, FTO (follow the oil.)

    There are no proven reserves in Somalia, but oil seeps there were known in colonial times.

    In addition, it is a major “choke point” for sea traffic in the region. Strategically, control of Somalia goes a long way toward control of oil, especially that headed to China.

    False flag? It wouldn’t be the first time in this administration.

    Or, might we try to recoup what we lost in Afghanistan and Iraq by establishing control of Somalia?

    I don’t know, but it’s good to FTO.

  37. Sean C. Ledig Says:

    GGGAAAAAAWWWWWWDDDDDDDAAAAAAMMMMMNNNN!

    Another kick-ass column!

    It is so true, Ted. We go after everyone except the real bad guys. We let bin Laden get away, but we go after Iraq.

    It would be so easy to bomb those pirates and the government that supports them back to the stone age. And unlike in Iraq, we actually would have the support of most of the world and would be the heroes.

    But no, that makes too much sense for the dumbfucks who run this country.

  38. Anonymous Says:

    The real problem is that “International Law” (an oxymoron at best) that you lefties are so fond of.

    What’s really needed here is some good old-fashioned unilateralism. Instead of worrying about offending the sensibilities of The Hague set we should be blowing the pirates out of the water on sight. There should also be a take-no-prisoners policy which would address any worries about asylum-seeing pirates.

    Of course after the cock-up in Iraq I wouldn’t expect implementation of such a robust policy any time soon.

  39. Angelo Says:

    look over here!!!

    never mind the bailouts.

  40. Angelo Says:

    look over here!!!

    never mind the bailouts.

  41. Anonymous Says:

    What, The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not bad enough for you? No , lets shoot missiles at an absurdly large oil tanker.

    Are you an idiot?

  42. Angelo Says:

    The real problem is that “International Law” (an oxymoron at best) that you lefties are so fond of.

    What’s really needed here is some good old-fashioned unilateralism.

    That is the point. What is stopping the US from doing what it has always done?

    Do you really think it is because we fucked up in Iraq?

  43. Anonymous Says:

    “@anonymous:
    so where are you seeing the the pirates are executing ship crew?

    Most stories I read is that they are being treated well.

    If there was armed resistance, then there would be more of a chance of the crew being executed.”

    This comes from first hand accounts of people who made it out alive by hiding.

    Most stories don’t make it to the news. Like the saying goes, “Dead men tell no tales.”

    “The real problem is that “International Law” (an oxymoron at best) that you lefties are so fond of.”

    There is no problem with International Law. That being said, they could have blown it up because it was a military target which ended up in the wrong hands.

    “What, The Exxon Valdez oil spill was not bad enough for you? No , lets shoot missiles at an absurdly large oil tanker.

    Are you an idiot?”

    I have no problems with them shooting missiles at tankers with military targets. They have no oil.

    Those that do, the U.S. Navy has a contingency measure to deal with that. The U.S. Navy Seals. Also, missiles don’t blow up the boat, the point is to disable it.

  44. Tommy Bibiyan Says:

    You are the man ted .. couldn’t agree more w/ this post

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