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Guest Editorial from a guy in the biz.

Lawrence is an occasional reader of this space - we actually met face-to-face while on the NR Cruise this month. He sent this along, his thoughts on the current plague of piracy specifically, and the failed states of Africa more generally.

The commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated motor vessel Faina off the coast of Somalia Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008 while one of his helicopters provides aerial surveillance. The Belize-flagged cargo ship is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping, Ukraine and is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on Sept. 25, 2008, and forced to proceed to an anchorage off the Somali Coast.
The commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated motor vessel Faina off the coast of Somalia Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008 while one of his helicopters provides aerial surveillance. The Belize-flagged cargo ship is owned and operated by Kaalbye Shipping, Ukraine and is carrying a cargo of Ukrainian T-72 tanks and related equipment. The ship was attacked on Sept. 25, 2008, and forced to proceed to an anchorage off the Somali Coast.

24 November 2008

You know, I do not care a whole lot about Somalia. . .

Africa is a bucket of sand and when you stick your hand into the bucket then pull it out, you have left no impression behind.

None whatsoever.

Look at the travesty that Zimbabwe (sic) has become. . . Between Zym and Sudan (where I spent six months in 2002 trying to monitor a cease-fire between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA/M (Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army/ Movement) in the Nuba Mountains arranged by the good offices of retired Senator John Danforth and implemented by the Bush Administration—which nobody has every heard about) the entire continent of Africa could be fed.

But no.

Colonialism, for all of its warts at least ensured people were fed, that malaria was on the decline and Africans were relatively peaceful. Post-colonialism, you have Hutu and Tutsi slaughters on a massive scale, famine and large chunks of the continent essentially dissolving from nation-state status to nothingness.

So, recognizing the endemic problems, Bush 43 creates Africa Command (AFRICOM), and has done a lot of other things as well (like the Sudan mission) to try and gently add stability—wouldn’t want to hand of the “white man” to be too prominent now, would we. So, always sensitive (politically and culturally) the best man for the job turns out to be General Ward, whom I am sure is a fine American and a dedicated officer. But does America get any slack from the Chicago machine for trying. . . Nah. And, maybe the Trib is right, but for the wrong reasons. It is not that we are trying in Africa. . . It is just that we know well in advance that no matter what we do, it won’t be enough and at the end of the day, once we stop, Africa will revert to status quo ante.

It is not that I am not sympathetic.

As mentioned earlier, I’ve spent time in a small corner of that dark continent, one of about five or so white people in a town of a quarter-million. It was an experience I will never forget and in part it was motivated by not only wanting to assist in the war on terrorism, but also by a couple of articles written by Jonah Goldberg (see links above). There is something immoral about not trying to help, so at the end of the day, we must try because the answer if we do not try is chaos. If we do try, it will probably still be chaos that we are left with but when all is said and done, at least we will have tried.

And re: Somalia, which is where I began and before I end, I need to get back to: please read the two linked articles “The Missing Somalia Men” and “Africa Refugee program on hold

So, it would seem that a number of these fighters in Somalia are actually prior immigrants to the states, and also we know that the extended family resettlement program has been halted because the Somalis have been playing us for the sucker.

So, back to Somalia. That the piracy has gone on this long off Somalia's coast dumbfounds me. I’ve worked the maritime ship-takedown problem. Supertankers create quite a wake, can travel rather fast once they get up to speed, trying to catch then board a supertanker which is at speed after a rear-aspect chase is a tough, tough problem and you may likely run out of fuel before you could effect a closure and if you do close, climbing the side of the ship which is underway and at speed is NOT a non-trivial problem.

Kill all the pirates and their accomplices.  Don’t waste time trying to sort it out, they are all corrupt. TIA.

Let me select 50 men and proper equipment, perhaps less and this problem will be resolved very quickly. We’ve got the assets to do this, just not the will.

When everyone is responsible, but no one is accountable, you get what we’ve now got. Funny old world that 43’s presidency might/should focus in its waning days on the same state that 41’s presidency focused upon in its waning days 16 years earlier.


The State has been requiring the DNA testing for many African immigrants for some time now, because the immigration process from this continent is wroght with rabid fraud, extremely higher than in any other area.  Gayana was one of those.  So this DNA ordering of the Somalis should not be such a surprise. 
I cannot stand this arms-wringing by all those 'social advocates' demanding to make exceptions to the laws because 'we do not undestand the reality of what's going on in Africa'...
I agree with your solution to the problem.  This is the case where Stalin's famous aphorism rings true: no pirate - no problem.
Ideally, every ship going through that body of water, through Malacca Strait and other highly pirated areas, should be equipped with enough firearms and other means of fending off the attackers.  However, due to the peace-loving anti-gun UN, unless you are military, you cannot have any arms on the high seas.
And military cannot do what they do the best - kill the suckers - due to the darn MSM channeling the public outcry on the fate of those poor and mis-understood fishing inspectors. 
With the incoming administration hell-bent on 'repairing our image abroad', do not expect any change in our current position on piracy - monitoring from afar. 
Stephen Decatur would know what to do. I believe the traditional laws of the Sea, and of Nations, still provide that pirates be hanged on the spot if still alive after being captured. I don't trust the State to administer the death penalty properly on land, but at sea I'm definitely in favor of the traditional solution. At sea, there is no law but the law enforced by the ship with more weapons.
At sea, there is no law but the law enforced by the ship with more weapons.

And the will to use them, JTG.

They have the will, and we don't.  Therefore, our weapons are useless.

Which, of course, is the point of Lawrence's missive.
I am reading that a) the pirates are getting a bunch of information from informants at key ports in Dubai, Yemen, etc.  For a million or two the info can be had.  Which is why they charge such an exhorbitant ransom, I believe.  I think what we see here is that the pirates have to pay everybody else, not just themselves.  This is no longer about blackbeard, but about "associates".

Any how, the second story I read puts the possibility of a negotiated end to the pirates.  Apparently they fear the threat of the Islamists and are willing to play ball for possible rescue.  At least, some are.  Beyond that, I warned three years ago that piracy off the Somolia Coast and the potential of closing that water way or at least forcing ships to re-route longer rountes would be more costly to the shippers and final recipients, which could exacerbate an already shakey economy.
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Um, John, I _did_ write "enforced." "enforced" reminds me of that line from one of my favorite movies, "High Wind in Jamaica", when the British captain yells at the pirates, "Heave-to instantly or I shall fire into you!"
This is a lot of excitement.  The piracy off of Somalia is not that big a thing in my opinion. 

Also as far as killing off all the pirates and sorting them out later.....well, that incident with India sinking what may turn out to be the wrong ship answers that thought.  Maybe less restrictive ROE is not all that desirable. 

I think the restrainst with which the current Administration and the USN is handling this is just right.  After all Somali piracy is not having any real impact on us.  Let's not get caught up in the drama we know that mainstream media can cause.  Despite the lurid headlines in print and online Somali piracy does not impact US business interests.

Plus, for me personally it's a hard sell to get me to care about the enemies of the Islamic court in Somalia.
Maggie, when the cost of shipping oil will increase 30% (that's how much it will increase if the shipping will go around the Africa), it WILL impact our business interests.
The 'mother ship' sunk by Indian Navy as described by the MSM is the reason why the Navies cannot do what they can do the best.  You have the owner who might be the one involved claiming that his ship was not a pirate ship, his sole survivor supposedly told him that the ship was in the process of being taken over by the pirates when the Indians struck, and Indian Navy claims that the pirates were marauding on the deck brandishing weapons and actually firing at the destroyer.  From this info, it could be that the owner is in cahoots with the pirates and it was his crew that was brandishing weapons (in violation of the UN treaties) at the Indian; or the pirates felt that the Indians would be afraid to retaliate because of the articles like the one we all read and became really brazen.  Now they learned the lesson - even if you are on the civilian ship, you might get your arse blown off by the Navies.  May be they will think twice.
On Bill Rogio's site, there is an article in which the Somalian Islamist blast Al-Jazeerah for wrongfully inventing their disagreement with the pirates over the SAudi tanker. They reitarate that they are in full agreement with the pirates on their actions and are not going to fight them to help release the Saudi tanker and the crew.
"Maggie, when the cost of shipping oil will increase 30% (that's how much it will increase if the shipping will go around the Africa), it WILL impact our business interests."

Olga, even if every supertankers takes the long route around the this amounts to less than 1 penny per gallon cost for the American citizen.  A)  I don't see that happening based on the current situation and B) Who is even going to notice that with everything else that is going on?

"The 'mother ship' sunk by Indian Navy as described by the MSM is the reason why the Navies cannot do what they can do the best."

I'm sorry, I am not understanding your point here. What the US Navy does best is defend American interests abroad, and project American power.....and that's going just fine.

" Now they learned the lesson - even if you are on the civilian ship, you might get your arse blown off by the Navies. May be they will think twice."

I wish I had as much faith as you appear to have in the sensitive side of Somali pirates, lol. Life is cheap on the Horn of Africa, I doubt that this particular action of the Indian Navy (regardless of the true status of the ship and it's captain) will have all that great am impact on the future of piracy in the area.  For as long as it's profitable, it will continue.  Other pirates looked at that and simply thought "I have money, you're sucks to be you".

Vis-a-vis Roggio's take on the Somali pirates, I would need to see what he wrote before commenting.

Olga, even if every supertankers takes the long route around the this amounts to less than 1 penny per gallon cost for the American citizen. A) I don't see that happening based on the current situation and B) Who is even going to notice that with everything else that is going on?

I think that you are overlooking the cost of shipping anything will rise 30% or more.  For instance,after the big Tsunami a couple of years ago, the maritime route in that area was highly silted and limited shipping causing them to re-route.  That had an increase in pricing for diesel fuel because it cost more and required more to ship.  Which had an impact on diesel fuel in the US which meant that the cost for shipping goods by truck and by diesel powered train in the US went up as well, increasing the cost of all goods, not just fuel, again.  An increase that we did not see a reduction in. 

More shipping goes through the gulf of Aden to the Suez Canal through to the Mediterranean than anyone can imagine.   Interdiction of goods and the rising cost, not just of goods and fuel, but insurance rates, can damage our economy.  Period.  There is a certain amount that we are always absorbing, but the very public and rather successful nature of these events can likely inspire even greater piracy and cost.

Also, I thought the same thing as you did about the Somali Islamist.  Frankly, I see them doing as the AQ supported groups in Iraq did which is that they will try to incorporate or take over the piracy in this area in order to obtain "strategic convergance".  Impact world economy, cause general panic and use the money gained from ransom, extortion and or sell of the goods to support their general activities. 

That, along with the actual costs, are too much for us to take lightly.
He's right.  We have the tools, on the TO&E .  A land and sea approach(blow up the hulls, attack the camps) is a well known strategy.  But, do we truly have them available? 

Also, this is why I think a lot of people got miffed with Barnett writing about bases and Fallon in Esquire.  Stuff that could've been done, sotto voce, now had a spotlight on it.  SOF playing whack-an-idjit on the Indian Ocean coast of Africa doesn't work so well when there's lots of eyes about. 

30%, if accurate, is huge.  If I was anyone I'd check to see what Llyod's of London had to say about the cost of shipping(they are rather authoritative on the matter, y'know).  Insurance also needs to be figured into this, not just time and distance.  Dangerous places, or simply nefarious things, pushes the insurance costs up---and that gets pushed onto the end consumer more than anyone---or simply means nothing moves because insurance will not be issued for anything transiting that area.   

The 'it doesn't directly affect me, so I don't care' 'ttude shows exactly the self-centered, micro view that's dangerous when talking about things of the macro-economic scale.  Higher costs to just about anyone leads to much higher prices here(even your favorite body scrub, Maggs).  If it costs more to get fuel/raw materials to China then than that 1 cent Kat talks about is probably 4 cents higher(if not more) when it gets to Wal-mart/Bed, Bath, and Beyond Boring(thank you Cassie for that one).   That adds up.  That's a couple billion dollars when summed.  Talk about your 'broken window' analogy(economic, not crime), that's a lot of money that could've been spent elsewhere to fuel economic growth.  But, nah, it don't bother me in a very obvious manner so why should I worry?  When did Alfred E. Neuman take over 'round these parts? 

Then there's this:  whatever happened to doing something because it was simply the right thing to do?  Pirates and slavers suck diseased donkey wang and should be shown the way to Hell in the loudest, most gruesome manner at hand.  End of story. 

Give the man his 50 volunteers and a couple of destroyers(the stuff we keep trying to sell Taiwan but the bottom keeps falling out of the deal should work fine for this).  He'll end it. 
that wasn't Kat with the .01 thing.  That was maggie.  I believe I'm on the same page with you Ry, the cost goes all around and we get screwed by billions, not pennies.
Sorry, I still haven't seen any serious facts backing up a 30% increase in costs for the American consumer. 

Sure a 30% increase in costs to American consumers would be terrible.

Sure hugely inflated costs for diesel fuel would be bad for our economy.

But so far the doom and gloom scenario is only being touted by the media.  I guess once consumer confidence plummets even further because people are frightened about the effect of Somali piracy on the global economy, then the MSM will come out with a few thoughtful columns with some introspective comments like "My bad!  We had no facts and we blew it out of proportion." a la the post-election "Maybe we were too favorable in our coverage of Obama."  Of course by then, the damage is done.

Why are the Somali piracy stories even being discussed now?  It's not new.  Why so much media focus?  Two reasons.  The election is over and now the MSM can freely discuss any foreign policy situation that may have favored John McCain's strong experience and steady hand.  the second reason is as old as newspapers themselves.  It's lurid.  The MSM has "The One" safely in office and now they can trot out all the shocking and revolting details.  Pirates!  Hostages!  Dangerous weapons!  Distress calls!  Oh my!  Where was all this concern before November?  How come Tom Brokaw didn't ask Obama about piracy during the debate?  Wasn't it a concern then?

Yes, it's a problem.  Yes, it needs to be dealt with.  But calmly and deliberately and in the order of it's importance.

It's a fair discussion to say "What new  rule sets should we put in place to deal with the question of piracy in the 21st century?"

It is just silly to discuss "Why don't the Navies of the world sail into gulf of Aden and execute everyone who looks at them funny because a 30% increase in costs to the American consumer could be disasterous."

If we want to have hypothetical discussions about disaster scenarios, let's just watch "Armageddon" and try to project the costs of blowing up the rogue meteor?

So far the only credible information I have seen regarding someone really changing their shipping routes is about China and India.  If China ships on alternative routes the price of their crappy goods will go up.....and that's a plus.  You shouldn't be buying that shit anyway.  As far as India goes, that is more of a concern, but again, not enough to get as spooled up as the MSM is.

Piracy is going to impact us just as much as we *let* it impact us.  Put aside your bloodthirsty urges and your doom and gloom scenarios.  There are people who need to work on pulling this 19th century problem of piracy into the 21st century.  No one loves the idea of making certain people walk the plank more than Princess Crabby.  However, the fact remains that it's a complicated world here in 2008 and we need to address these outdated rule sets while not losing focus on our real mission in the's not fighting piracy.
I think you're wrong Maggie.  While I do not know the true economic costs either and would indeed be inclined to ask insurers if I wanted to know, there's two major issues about letting this go without severe action instead of 21st century thumb twiddling;

1) It will encourage others.  This is the wild card problem and Afica is not the only place which likes the idea.

2) While i have no evidence I have really rather little doubt such activities fund terrorism.  Possibly quite a lot of money too.  I'd rather risk losing cargo and ships than let those twits get funding.  They can stretch a million a lot further than the US can.
I can help a bit with the questions above regarding direct costs to shippers:

The "+30%" number cited is the difference in fuel costs for FOB Indian Ocean delivery costs to northern Atlantic ports by sending cargo via the Cape rather than via Suez. While that is a big increase, it should be remembered that compared to capital and cargo costs, transportation in big hulls is a fairly small component of end-price.

There is also a chartering cost factor: see Baltic List and other such sources for any recent changes.

There is also marine risk insurance: as mentioned obliquely above, LloydsList is the baseline source for information as to any changes to that.

hope that helps.
As the Mother Hen of Naval Bloggers, Princess Crabby - perhaps you should consult Eagle1, who's been beating the piracy drum for... years.
As the Mother Hen of Naval Bloggers

Argent - I don't know what I wrote that could possibly be construed as advocating a position of doing nothing.  What I trying to convey is that going into the Gulf of Aden, guns blazing and sinking every ship or small boat that seems suspicious is ridiculous. 

I am also saying it is not a top priority for USN in that area - GWOT is.  I am saying that other countries need to step up too and we can let them take care of a lot of this stuff while we focus on the big picture.

A large part of the answer is for those ships to arm themselves, train their own crews and hire security.  You know if  you call the police because someone tried to rob you and there is no lock on your front door, you are in for a very big lecture. 

Another part of this solution is coalition Navies.  You know everyone is talking, India!  India!  Get some!  Big whoop.  That's the country that didn't want to be part of this until earlier this month when a ship flying an Indian flag was hassled.  "Oh wait, I see that perhaps we need to act now before a UN mandate."  Yeah whatever, welcome to the party and pull up a bar stool.

It is *not* the job of the USN to drop everything and go running for every distress call around the HOA.  Instead of citing how much fuel would go up if every supertanker goes another route (and still I see no source on that - so I'll stick with .01 per gallon), why don't you try to calculate the costs to the USN if we were to respond to every hijacking or attempted hijacking.  The cost in fuel, the cost in lost training time, the cost in not getting things done in regard to the primary mission.  Not for nothing kids, but the members of Princess Crabby's Navy Coterie are not just floating out there sunning themselves waiting for the next round of letting the guns rip.  They are busy.  Yes, yes they are prepared to respond to whatever circumstance arises in their AO.  But are you advocating that we turn the 5th Fleet into some sort of Coast Guard?  No, of course not.  So before you tell me about a phantom rise in consumer costs, stop and think about the very real costs to be incurred if we turn this into a full blown USN mission.

You people are not acknowledging the role of the MSM in this.  Doesn't anyone else see the irony of the same group of nitwits who are always screaming "bilateral" this and "multilateral" that and "We're not the world's policeman" now wanting us to do just that.  Why?  Why so they can have more headlines and some footage of things blowing up, that's why.

I have never advocated "thumb twiddling" I have said it is not a priority and other players have to step up.  I said repeatedly it needed to be addressed.  So before you say I am wrong make sure you know what I said.  You haven't cited me correctly.  Also, I never said a word about such activities funding terrorism.
Armorer - I have been addressed in many ways here and on other blogs.  You have actually compared me to a bug.  But "mother hen"?  That's just unkind.  And because I am Princess Crabby you will pay for that.

I do read Eagle1, faithfully in fact for the last two years.  I believe he and Galrahn have influenced my thinking on this a great deal.  I think my position on piracy is closer to his than most commenters here.  I can't think of what I am writing that he would disagree with.  Was your comment meant to convey that Eagle1 advocates the USN blowing up everything in sight and become the cop on the beat around the HOA?  Because then I think you need to read him a little more.

Mother Hens take care of their chicks.  I stand by my characterization...

Lessee - the piracy problem has grown worse, almost steadily, as the pirates enjoy success.  It will have to get a lot worse before the civilian shippers do anything about it other than take passive measures - and international law doesn't support armed merchantmen in peacetime.

The pirates have some problems of their own, to be sure.  They can't really get into the killing of the crews, or sinking or plundering the ships.  They pretty much have to ransom them - the facilities for fencing the goods are sparse in their area.  They can't sezie the ships themselves and put them to their own uses.

And they know our own policies and predilections hamper us responding aggressively to retake the ships as killing hostage crew members would certainly happen eventually, which means you have to stop it before it happens, and that can get expensive pretty quickly.

Yes, it's a complicated problem, and in a time when we're no longer willing to just go in and smash everything flat, will require a complex solution.

And, a multi-lateral solution as well.  But if any Navy is going to be a lead on it - in a serious way that leverages the technology to it's fullest - it pretty much has to be the US Navy.

I'm not a sailor, and I don't pretend to understand all the stresses on the Navy, but as I read it - aside from keeping waterborne runways available for Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf region, the rest of the Navy is essentially in a standard peacetime mode.

Heck, we're sending amphibious assault ships out on humanitarian assistance missions because, among other things, their normal Marine contingents are in rota for the sandboxes, leaving the ships sitting idle - so the Navy is finding work for them.

We've just commissioned what, two Littoral Combat Ships - ships *designed* to fight in these kinds of waters, and, frankly, these kinds of enemies.

Let 'em operate in Combined Task Forces, that's a great idea.  Hell, let other nations have the lead, if they'll take it.

But one of the purposes of a Navy is to keep the sealanes safe and clear.

It strikes me, if the Navy is resisting this kind of work, they're acting like the Army when the Army was saying "We don't wanna do no COIN stuff, we only wanna plan and play in the Big One."

We saw how well that attitude served the Army.

At no point am I arguing for the USN *not* to be handling this.

I am saying that it is not and should not be our number 1 priority.

I am saying that containing pirates at sea does not solve the overall problem.

I am saying that killing every Somali pirate does not solve the problem.

I am saying that approaching this problem with a "kill every pirate - sink every ship" attitude is impractical.  It will also lead to bigger problems.

There is a middle ground between doing nothing and going in guns blazing to become the Somali Coast Guard.

Most of my arguements are in response to the premise that we must go "all in" off the coast of Somalia otherwise the US will suffer grave economic harm.  Piracy is impacting the global economy, but to what extent? Certainly no one has backed up the 30% hike in consumer costs arguement. 

Piracy is up, for just the reason you state.  The other players in this game are reluctant to change their ways.  But they will never change their ways if we go in and at great expense of time and money handle everything ourselves.  Not that we *couldn't*, we *shouldn't*.  And once we cleaned it all up, we'd be crucified world-wide as bullies and unilateralists.  It's a lose/lose situation to focus on the Somali pirate situation on our own.

I am also arguing against the idea that no one is accountable.  We are working on it and people here at the Castle should know better than most that the fact you aren't vacationing on the pristine sands of Somali's newest seaside resort does not mean that the United States (the current  Admin as a whole) is not working on this problem.  We know that progress is not always visable to the naked eye.  We know that our military forces can not jump with both feet on every problem, but that does not mean a problem is not taken seriously.

I am suprised that you bring the Kearsarge into this.  I would think you would be the first to acknowledge that our military keeps many plates spinning at once.  Carrying out one mission in one AO does not diminish your commitment to other priorities.

When I say that something isn't and shouldn't be our main focus, why should that mean I advocate no action.  That is the point of place things in their order of importance.  Otherwise it would be called "picking"  - you'd pick one thing and drop the rest.

Piracy will not be solved by your friend's suggestion "Kill all the pirates and their accomplices. Don’t waste time trying to sort it out, they are all corrupt. TIA."

Also, I find this comment -
"Africa is a bucket of sand and when you stick your hand into the bucket then pull it out, you have left no impression behind." -
to be cynical and not at all useful in any discussion of America's role in world affairs.

I also deeply resent the MSM role in spooling people up over this issue.  To say that the MSM is being hysterical over piracy is not the same as saying piracy is not a problem.  Piracy is a problem and we are dealing with it.  But being bloodthirsty about it doesn't help.

I am confident that the Navy is not resisting solving any part of this problem.  They are simply resisting solving it in the ways proposed by the MSM and arm-chair admirals.

Oh and it will be solved.

Cluck.  Cluck. (is that right? You know how much experience I have with that sort of thing.)

My personal opinion is that regional entities with a stake should be the lead - but someone has to facilitate.

As for this:

Also, I find this comment -
"Africa is a bucket of sand and when you stick your hand into the bucket then pull it out, you have left no impression behind." - to be cynical and not at all useful in any discussion of America's role in world affairs.

It is certanly cynical - but does come from his experience (and I would suggest recent history) in the region.  The utility?  Past approaches haven't proven politically and arguably ethically (in our current expression thereof) long-term viable - and a new approach is needed.