"Shoot Pirates on Sight"? That was the title of an article by Amital Etzioni for CNN about the most recent Samali pirates shooting of the hostages. Certainly, pirates were considered "enemies of mankind" in ancient times because they posed a threat to maritime safety. Therefore, anyone could punish captured pirates and they were ordinarily excuted on the spot. The usual Pirates method was hanging them from the yardarm. In 1790 the First American Congress passed a law allowing federal authorities to prosecute any piracy committed on the high seas. This act was frequently executed in the eighteenth century and is still a valid law. Due to piracy the United States has invaded countries that were the base of pirates attacking American ships. Thomas Jefferson ordered a naval expedition to the Mediterranean resulting in the first Barbary War (1801-1805) For four years the U.S fought with Tripoli and Morocco in naval conflict. Using tactics like the Green Berets U.S. Marines landed in Tripoli and that resulted in a treaty ending the war. The second Barbary War was under James Monroe where U.S. vessels bombarded Tunis and Algiers because of piracy. All nations have dealt summarily and harshly with pirates throughout history until now.

Today we have modern piracy with the twist that instead of confiscating goods and ships, ransom is being demanded. In spite of international warships to patrol the area and a United Nations Security Council resolution against piracy, the piracy has continued a the rate of one a day or more. Somali pirates hold 33 vessels and 758 hostages. In January there were 35 attacks with the capture of seven ships and 148 new hostages. Only a handful of these attacks make the news. It’s estimated that the earnings from these attacks exceeded $230 Million dollars last year. The average length of holding the ships or hostages is 213 days. The ransom is paid in cash because Somalia has no functioning banking system. The money is usually dropped from a light airplane. Some pirates are now accepting money by wire transfer and the size of the ransoms being demanded has therefore gone up.

If caught, the pirates throw their weapons overboard to destroy evidence. The approach has been to avoid capturing the pirates in the first place or if captured to release them without any charges or punishment. All of the parties know that the prisoners will probably be released. Naval forces have let some 500 – 700 pirates go free over the last three years. Pirates are rarely treated aggressively and when caught are usually released in a new kind of "catch and release" policy. The reasons are varied and include issues of jurisdiction over the offense, an unwillingness to spend the time and money prosecuting them and the idea the pirates are criminals entitled to due process.

In spite of all efforts, Somali piracy is an ever increasing threat to world shipping. Mr. Etzaioni suggests that pirates should not be considered criminals, but rather terrorists. He argues they terrorize innocent civilians and kill them. He thinks they should be warned that any of their boats approaching a vessel within 300 yards will be fired upon and destroyed. It would also follow, I suppose, that if captured, they would be subject to marital trials and immediate punishment including death although Mr. Etzaioni doesn’t argue this. It does seem mystifying why the powerful countries of the world, United States, Russia, Japan, France and Brittan are unable to put a stop to this activity which impacts all maritime movement in the area. Following our present policy can only encourage more of the same. I like Mr Etzioni's idea of a clear warning followed by severe consequences if not heeded. They are terrorists and not your usual bank robber.


  1. Paul, love that passage. Could readily add an attorney crossing an expert or drafting a brief…getting lost in either te arguments or REIT thoughts as they sit in a moment wondering where they will go next. Look forward to seeing you at sleeping lady! Rest assured I’m going to pick your brain a bit on other matters.

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