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).