How to prevail over Somali pirates

Sunday’s rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips from the hands of Somali pirates ended a tense and dangerous situation that began nearly a week ago.

The net result:

•  Twenty-one U.S. crew members from the merchant ship Maersk Alabama are safe and sound. Their ship was safely in port in Kenya, delivering its cargo of food and other supplies for the poor of east Africa.

•  Three pirates are dead, killed by Navy SEAL sharpshooters, who shot the pirates in rough seas in the dark. A fourth pirate, injured days ago when the pirates tried to take the merchant ship, is in custody and receiving medical treatment.

The SEALs fired on the pirates only after the pirates made repeated threats to kill Capt. Phillips, pointed an automatic weapon at his back and Navy officers in charge of the mission feared for the merchant sea captain’s life.

We applaud all of the Navy personnel involved for their patient and precise actions to protect Capt. Phillips and free him. And we’re glad to hear that President Barack Obama authorized the use of force in this military mission to rescue an American taken captive on the high seas, rather than engaging in endless negotiations with the pirates. Various groups of Somali pirates already have demonstrated they are willing to hold hostages indefinitely to win ransom for them.

Which brings up another point that Obama and other world leaders must face: Despite the successful rescue of Capt. Phillips on Sunday, the threat of piracy remains in the region around lawless Somalia.

And, while the rhetoric from some Somali pirates in the wake of Sunday’s rescue sounded like the bluster of bullies who received a well-deserved comeuppance, the fact is pirates continue to be successful in too many instances. They currently hold more than a dozen ships with more than 200 crew members. None of them are Americans.

How should the United States and the world respond to this ongoing threat?

There is talk of attacking pirate strongholds in Somalia, and that is an option that should be kept open. But such an attack would be costly and could lead to the loss of American lives, as well as those of innocent Somalis. And it would stretch even thinner America’s already overburdened military forces.

For now, it would be better to train and arm crews on merchant vessels traveling in that region, or convince shipping companies to hire armed private security forces to protect the ships. And we should continue the beefed-up naval patrols in the area, not just with U.S. forces but those of our allies.

The United States wasn’t the only nation to fight back against pirates last week. On Friday, French Navy commandos stormed a sailboat that had been captured by pirates. Two pirates and, unfortunately, one French citizen were killed. But four French citizens were freed.

If more countries and merchant crews fought back, the pirate situation would change quickly.

When the Somali raiders begin to realize that the likely consequence of such attacks is their own death, not millions of dollars in ransom money, then the ship boardings and hostage takings will cease.


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