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Pirates, operating off the coast of Somalia, have grabbed an American flagged ship. Although they’re rare, it’s just not a good idea to grab American flagged ships because it is likely to bring a response that for which the pirates aren’t looking.   I.e., a crew that fights back, and every available American military vessel in the area.

As it turns out the pirates grabbed the Masersk Alabama off the eastern coast of Somalia yesterday. That’s below the Horn of Africa since the Gulf of Aden, their previous hunting grounds, has been pretty effectively policed by TF-151 – a coalition of 12 navies.

It is assumed, since the attack on the Alabama occurred 350 miles off the coast of Somalia, that the pirates came from a “mother ship”, a larger ship from which they launch their attacks in the small, swift skiffs they use.

The pirates grabbed the Alabama early in the morning but by afternoon, the crew had retaken the ship. All except the captain who the pirates somehow kept in their custody. Apparently they negotiated with the crew for a pirate the crew had captured and agreed to an exchange. But the pirates didn’t keep their side of the bargain and kept the captain while the crew gave up the pirate.

The pirates and captain are now, apparently sitting in a lifeboat near the ship, negotiating with the crew. On site are the destroyer USS Bainbridge and some air assets.

My guess is this will go on a couple more days with the military content to let it continue as long as they don’t threaten to kill the captain or try to move out of the area. In the meantime they’ll gather as much intel as they can and formulate a plan to retake the captive.

Lesson to pirates? When they see that flag with a blue field full of stars and red and white stripes below it – let it pass. Not worth the effort. They don’t play patsy like the others do.

Oh – and too those trying to make this a presidential level “crisis”, it’s not unless he injects himself into it (and I don’t think he will). If the Pentagon needs guidance or permission for something, they’ll ask. Otherwise they should keep the administration informed and be left to do their job (here’s an interesting rundown of the last US ships taken in international waters and the reaction of three different presidents).

However, one has to wonder if the seizure of a US flagged ship might not increase calls for this:

Retired U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley, who was special envoy to Somalia in the 1990s, said U.S. special operations forces have drawn up detailed plans to attack piracy groups where they live on land, but are awaiting orders from the Obama national security team.

“Our special operations people have been itching to clean them up. So far, no one has let them,” Oakley told the Daily News.

The veteran diplomat, who also was ambassador to Pakistan, said teams of Army Delta Force or Navy SEALs “could take care of the pirates in 72 hours” if given the order to strike.

“They have plans on the table but are waiting for the green light,” Oakley said.

A Special Operations Command spokesman at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., declined comment.

A U.S. intelligence official, though dismissive of the pirates having any terrorism links, said “there is a more intense focus” now on these criminal gangs.

We’ll see.  What concerns me about this is the administration may see this as a relatively cheap opportunity to demonstrate its willingness to use military force to protect American interests.  Piracy, while a pain in the rear, is not such a threat that it requires that level of a response (of the 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden, less that 1% are hijacked).


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4 Responses to Ooops

  • McQ Oh – and too those trying to make this a presidential level “crisis”, it’s not unless he injects himself into it (and I don’t think he will).

    I agree that this isn’t a “presidential level crisis”.  However, it seems that EVERYTHING these days is a presidential level crisis… especially if there is political hay to be made.


    Does anybody know if the Bainbridge has yardarms?  And do Navy regs still cover the procedures for dangling pirates from them?

  • Piracy, while a pain in the rear, is not such a threat that it requires that level of a response (of the 33,000 ships that transit the Gulf of Aden, less that 1% are hijacked).

    All it would take is a few “smart” AQs to hijack  couple of tankers and release the contents, or maybe use them to ram other ships in the area to move it up on the priority list…

  • It won’t be a Presidential crisis unless he sticks his nose in, so far, so good.

    It doesn’t rise to the level of taking an embassy (not to the nation, but it sure does to the captain’s family….)

  • The most important difference between this and the other three hijackings is that this is in no way a <I>state</i> action (even to the extent that the Lauro hijacking was, being sponsored at least indirectly by one, and aided post-facto by another).

    Somalia doesn’t have a government in any proper sense, and couldn’t stop the pirates if it had one and wanted to – nor does the non-state support them to any significant degree, that I know of.

    It’s a lot harder to deter a non-State/State-Sponsored actor; an individual pirate group is only going to be deterred by the likelihood of being individually caught and punished (punishments to other pirates don’t matter to them except as … removing competition)… thus if they think they can rob the safe and crew and get out before the Navy arrives, and know the likelihood of being individually traced to their home port is low, they’re <I>very</i> hard to deter.

    Short of arming the hell out of merchant ships, which is problematic due to the various laws of the nations they stop at, but otherwise an excellent idea.

    Shark: Ah, but why would AQ want to hijack tankers in the Gulf of Aden? They have no interest in reducing piracy (by drawing attention to the area), and they prefer more direct ways of hurting the infidel west. (Especially ones that won’t upset the rich Arabs who fund them.)