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April 12, 2009

The Right Way to Stop Piracy

The crews of both the container ship Alabama and the USS Bainbridge just gave a good practical antipiracy course. The crew of the merchant ship fought back and avoided leaving the pirates in possession of a big ship full of hostages; Captain Phillips was apparently especially brave but did end up hostage. Navy snipers ended the danger to the Captain by killing the pirates – the opposite of paying ransom which would have encouraged further piracy.

Ironically an op-ed in today's New York Times, written before the rescue, says:

"So we end up with the spectacle of an American destroyer, the Bainbridge, with enough Tomahawk missiles and other weaponry to destroy a small city, facing off against a handful of Somali pirates in a tiny lifeboat. This is not an efficient use of American resources. It indicates how pirates, like terrorists, can attack us asymmetrically. The challenge ahead for the United States is not only dealing with the rise of Chinese naval power, but also in handling more unconventional risks that will require a more scrappy, street-fighting Navy."

Apparently we do have a "scrappy, street fighting navy". All three pirates were shot in the head while bouncing on a choppy sea. The one with the AK-47 pointed at the back of the American captain never got to shoot.

Not every attempt to fight back will end as well; we have to be prepared for that. But fighting back discourages piracy and saves lives; paying ransom to pirates finances extortion and murder. Thank you to both American crews for the sailors whose lives they've just made safer.

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