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September 30, 2008

More dirty work than ever I do
Posted by Avram Grumer at 03:21 AM * 66 comments

Jim Henley blogged a few days back about how the world’s navies (led by ours) have been falling down on the job of keeping the international sea lanes safe from piracy. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney wants to shift the burden to the shipping industry. I hadn’t realized just how much piracy was going on around Somalia:

The Malaysian ship MT Bunga Melati 5 has been released by its Somali pirate captors after the payment of a US$2 million ransom. Another Malaysian ship is still being held.

The luxury yacht Carre d’As, and the retired French couple who own it, were seized by pirates earlier this month, and freed in a surprise raid by French commandos. A larger yacht had been captured earlier this year, and after the ransom was paid and hostages released, the same commandos captured the pirates.

Somali pirates have captured a Ukrainian cargo ship, the Faina, loaded with Russian tanks en route to Kenya, and demand US$20 million ransom. Apparently US dollars are still worth something in certain circles.

The most interesting pirate story, via BoingBoing: Yet another group of Somali pirates has captured an Iranian ship, the MV Iran Deyanat, supposedly carrying “minerals” and “industrial products”. Some of the pirates are coming down with strange symptoms — burns and hair loss — within days of taking the ship. Some have died.

Almost as strange is the group of pirates claiming to be acting in the name of environmentalism.

This BBC story from January 2006 says there had been 35 incidents of piracy off Somalia’s coast in the previous nine months. This story from the Atlantic Council of the US says there have been at least 60 attacks in the area so far this year, at distances from the coast of up to 250 nautical miles.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, have been having a lousy year.

Comments on More dirty work than ever I do:
#1 ::: Nicholas Whyte ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:42 AM:

Statement of interest: I work for an organisation which advises the Government of Somaliland.

I completely agree that it is surprising that the world has only just discovered the Somali piracy problem. It's been very serious for years - the US-led Combined Task Force 150 was set up as long ago as 2002, though it has got worse in recent months.

One of the ironies in the situation is that the most stable part of the disintegrated Somalia state, the former British colony of Somaliland, actually has a pretty good record of preventing piracy off its part of the coast - the official UN maps show only two incidents there of the dozens of the last few years (and I'm told that even those two have been mislabelled). Somaliland's coastguard, of course, cannot be sold arms legally due to the international arms embargo applying to the whole of the former country; yet at the same time, of course, the internationals will demand that Somaliland do its bit to prevent piracy!

#2 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:41 AM:

> The Pittsburgh Pirates, on the other hand, have been having a lousy year.

#3 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:41 AM:

Talk like a what day?

#4 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 08:14 AM:

I am shamed to have to admit that Lloyds List recently reported that the Royal Navy has been told not to try to deal with pirates, lest the scum claim political asylum in an English Court.

The story is now behind a paywall, and some have regarded it with varying degrees of scepticism. However, there is some coverage in The Register, by their naval staff.

#5 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 08:51 AM:

One could point out that a corpse cannot petition for asylum.

#6 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:31 AM:

4: this post

addresses that question, sceptically. The important point here is that claiming - and even being granted - political asylum is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. The likely course of events would be

1. Pirate gets captured off the Horn of Africa
2. Pirate brought back to UK for trial
3. Pirate claims asylum
4. Pirate granted asylum; UK agrees not to return pirate to Somalia
5. Pirate sent to a UK prison for life for piracy.

In fact, a pirate would be unlikely to gain asylum without a well-founded fear of persecution. You can't get asylum on the grounds that you come from a country where life is just generally crap. The pirate would have to have a second job as a political dissident or something.

(They are not members of the common throng;
They are all noblemen who have gone wrong!
-No Englishman unmoved that statement hears,
Because, with all their faults, we love our House of Peers.)

#7 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:37 AM:

As always when piracy threads come up, I point out the International Maritime Bureau piracy attacks map. Most of the maps have at least one in waters that you don't expect; this year we seem to have one off Corsica. But I thought Pompey Commodore Decatur wiped out the pirates in the Mediterranean!

#8 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:55 AM:

There's been a persistent problem of piracy around Somalia since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. As Nicholas Whyte states in the unrecognised but stable statelet of Somaliland which is basically the former British Somaliland there is no problem. However, the supposedly stable statelet of Puntland seems to be providing safe haven (or at any rate claiming it cannot suppress) for the pirates. And southern Somalia is either lawless or under Ethiopian occupation (paid for by Ethiopia's generous Uncle Samuel under the provisions of something called the War on Terror). Most of the pirates are Somalis trying to make a decent living in a time when their homeland has tbar gb fuvg. However, some are simply criminals taking advantage of the absence of law enforcement to, ahem, make themselves rich.

#9 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:56 AM:

From Neil's fantastic map, it looks like the problem might have something to do with Yemenite waters.

#10 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Sounds like the Somalis are due to take the trophy for "Most Feared Pirates" away from the Malays in the Indonesian Archipelago. Although the Malays may be able to hold onto "Most Barbarous" since they have a habit of not keeping the hostages alive.

#11 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:25 AM:

One of the staples of pulp adventure in the 20s and early 30s were the pirates in the South China Sea. Sometimes involving dastardly infiltration amongst the steerage passengers, attempts to storm the ship's bridge, and plucky crew with Maxim guns.

Exciting, but rather overloaded with racist junk. The idea of the passengers being isolated from the bridge by locked doors, etc., still manages to sound familiar.

Though I suspect that the only real meaning of a brow like a Shakespeare is male pattern baldness.

#12 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:29 AM:

The straits of Molucca (spelling) piracy went on hiatus for a while after the tsunami--one of the worst-hit areas was one of the worst nests of pirates.

The situation in the waters off and in the vicinity of Somali has been nasty for years.... there was a case where an American MD on extended leave from Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston cruising in a yacht or two with husband and others, was involved in fighting off a pirate attack, in that part of the world. The pirates lost that particular battle, decisively and lethally. It got reported, and I called Phil Nathanson--it turned out that he knew the MD.

#13 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:03 AM:

Exciting, but rather overloaded with racist junk

Or, given that we are talking about the South China Sea: racist, with overloaded junks?

#14 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:15 PM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) #10: Most Feared? Most Fearful, perhaps. They've been scared off by a loud noise in one case.

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:19 PM:

ajay, you maybe don't want to know the story I'm writing at the moment.

It's not just that I might still use the idea of Childe Ballads as jodies, but it will likely involve Chinese pirates.

(If the mil-SF writers can keep quoting March of Cambreadth, I don't see why my furry anarcho-syndicalists can't invent a few military traditions of their own. Including "Landing Force Detachment Valhalla".)

#16 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Surely, this is a problem best solved by Ron Paul's proposal to issue letters of marque and reprisal.... :)

#17 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:11 PM:

I don't understand how the U.S. Navy isn't cramming every inch of that coast with Q ships crewed by SEALs.

Aren't our military leaders interested in exercising their might? Is our political leader afraid of seeming hawkish?

I really don't understand how every pirate story doesn't read:

Suspected pirates approached and fired on the USS Filthy Rich, a training yacht of the U.S. Navy involved in peaceful exercises off the Somali Coast today. Navy sailors briefly defended themselves, after which no trace could be found of the pirates, their ship, or a portion of the shoreline that they had occluded prior to the attack.

#18 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Alan Braggins @ #2, that's hilarious. I can visualize a corollary for the KC Royals, too.

#19 ::: coffeedryad ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Dave Bell @ 15: Furry anarcho-syndicalists singing anything called "Landing Force Detachment Valhalla"? Let me know, I'll buy it.

(My current project doesn't have anything quite that cool, but it does have hulder-maidens and Art Nouveau mechas.)

#20 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:59 PM:

Nangleator @17, a good deal of the US Navy is busy somewhere else at the moment.

#21 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:40 PM:

Avram @20, so you're suggesting there's a branch of the military that Bush doesn't want to spread too thin? That's heartening, if unexpected.

I'm not one for projecting power across the globe, but seeing as it's happening anyway, killing off some pirates and making piracy less attractive would seem like a pretty good silver lining to me. I guess we won't even have that.

#22 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Oh, the year was fall 2008, How I wish I owned some oilfields now-
A mortgage bill came in the mail
But the bank that held my mortgage failed
God damn them all!
I was told they'd cross the seas for American debt
We'd spend no cash, get their gold,
All my savings gone and my job gone too
I'll freeze to death when it gets cold.

#23 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:23 PM:

So, these guys come up on their targets in speedboats. Ever wonder what a Javelin missile would do to a Scarab? I find myself wondering that these days.

It seems to me that many of the problems facing the US military in particular these days are issues of mission creep - expecting the military to do police work. Sometimes, as in the streets of Baghdad, it's because they should be replaced with actual police. In this instance I begin to think it's because people are expecting the Navy to act like the Coast Guard instead of taking the gloves off and being the gorram Navy.

Yes, I do think pirates should be sunk on sight with no apologies or excuses, especially when they're financing a civil war.

#24 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:19 PM:

Paula @12: Phil Nathanson? Does he or did he live in Lexington? Does he have a daughter or a sister named Barbara, who is a twin?

Barbara Nathanson and her twin sister were among my babysitters, when I was a very small child. I can't remember her sister's name, because I called them Barbara and Barbara.

#25 ::: Dave Robinson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Convoys and Q-ships. This is the 21st century and it shouldn't be happening.

#26 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:08 PM:

Yeah, our Navy is getting retrained and shipped to Afghanistan whether they like it or not.

#27 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:00 PM:

On the other hand, maybe the worlds shipping lanes will be a more interesting place once Chevron can hire convoy protection services from Blackwater. I think I have a lot of former co-workers who are salivating right now at the opportunity to sell high-grade weapons technology to somebody other than the Pentagon for once.

(Hmm. You mean I can't sell cruise missiles to just anyone with a business license? Drat.)

#28 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:10 PM:

jh, and then the Blackwater convoy "guards" decide, hey, we've got an armed ship, fuck this guarding shit, let's go pirating!

#29 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:12 PM:

ajay @6 In fact, a pirate would be unlikely to gain asylum without a well-founded fear of persecution. You can't get asylum on the grounds that you come from a country where life is just generally crap. The pirate would have to have a second job as a political dissident or something.

Traditionally one should get a letter of marque from the government (and say sorry and pay damages when you're caught attacking the wrong ships). So enterprising 21st century pirates should get themselves appointed the navy of opposition/secessionist governments; apologise and run away, claim asylum and/or demand POW status - take your pick.

#30 ::: Tom Barclay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:34 PM:

Nangleator@21 wrote, " . . . but seeing as it's happening anyway, killing off some pirates and making piracy less attractive would seem like a pretty good silver lining to me."

You've put your finger on the crux of the issue. The current US regime APPROVES of piracy, as they have demonstrated time and again.

#31 ::: pocketeer ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:47 PM:

The previous few posts lead to a scary thought.
(thankfully improbable, letters of marque from the US government aren't likely)

...but how is Blackwater not seen a piratical name?
Try it out: "Blackwater Buccaneers" or "the Pirates of Blackwater"

On a lighter note, according to that pirate attacks map, Saskatchewan seems to have shaken off the scourge of Captain Tractor.

#32 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 08:29 PM:

What's the Libertarian response to all this?

#33 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:11 PM:

pocketeer @ 31:

And it's a ho! (Ho!) Hi! (Hi!)
Farmers lock your doors
When you see the Jolly Roger
Off Regina's mighty shores!

Good times, good times....

#34 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:29 PM:

Here's a libertarian response: defense against international outlaws is a legitimate function of government.

If you want an anarchist response, you'll have to ask someone else.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:31 PM:

Pocketeer, #31:

My father was a Navy man; he begged me to compete
For a fighter ship, a frigate in the U.S. Navy Fleet.
But I left home at seventeen, a privateer to be;
Now I can outfight any four Fleet men and outdrink any three.
And it's cheer up, me lads, let your hearts never fear
When you ship out on the sealanes with Blackwater's Privateers!

(With apologies to Michael Longcor -- damn, that didn't take much tweaking!)

#36 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:32 PM:

The TV news is, as I'm typing, saying that the US Navy has surrounded a cargo ship being held by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

#37 ::: Per CJ ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 03:40 AM:

I am neither British nor trained in law, but it seems to me that at least according to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the British government could refuse to consider ex-pirates as refugees. Of course, it could be that national British law is wider in scope as to rights to asylum than this convention.

"F. The provisions of this Convention shall not apply to any person with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that.

a) He has committed a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity, as defined in the international instruments drawn up to make provision in respect of such crimes;

b) He has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to his admission to that country as a refugee;

c) He has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations."

It seems to me that at least b), maybe even c) (don't know if piracy could be said to be againt the purposes of the UN) and a) in some cases, should be applicable.

#38 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 04:43 AM:

37: in other words, pirates could still claim asylum - they just wouldn't be granted it. Unfortunately this distinction is lost on the Harrumph Tendency of my beloved nation's press.

You cannot hope to bribe or twist
- Thank God! - the British Journalist;
But, seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there's no occasion to.

#39 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:05 AM:

Per CJ @ 37: Law of the Sea is a matter of international treaty, well within the purposes of the UN, so yes, (c) applies unequivocally.

#40 ::: Per CJ ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:27 AM:

I thought a bit more about this, and it could of course be that what a branch of the British government had said is that they would nevertheless be stuck with any prisoners, if UK law does not allow repatriation of prisoners that would, for example, face a summary death sentence. It could be that such prisoners would be legally unreturnable, and therefore must stay in British custody, even when denied refugee status and asylum.

#41 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 12:33 PM:

Anti-piracy duties is something the US Navy and USMC could do very good at (and garner quite a bit of goodwill among Western nations), and they've even got the perfect tool for it, already in the arsenal -

Wasp class Amphibious Assault Ships

Two thousand marines is more than enough to engage any pirate target - up to and including 21st century Tortuga wannabees. Hell, you could probably offload a chunk of them, and rig up quarters for rescued passengers and crew, and some secure cells for prisoners awaiting trial.

Harriers provide rapid response and stand-off attack capacity, while the helos provide long-range eyes and troop movement/deployment (make sure each deployment has teams trained in air-assault style deployment). Keep a couple of the LCACs in the boat bay, maybe with a pair of the new Mark V SOC boats (closest thing I can find to an old PT Boat - I'd take those if I could get them.) - the LCACs for moving heavy gear ashore if you need to hit a land position, and the SOC boats for high-speed patrol and response. Between those, and the LHD's normal escort group, you can cover a hell of a lot of ocean.

The key is speedy response - if pirates know they can't make an attack without having an SOC boat, helo full of angry marines, or an AV8b with wing hardpoints full of rockets and guns getting up in their grill, it will tend to put a cramp in their style.

And when they try to switch to stealthy missions (like the pirates in the Straits of Mallacca sometimes do, climbing up anchor chains and the like) - you've got enough marines you can put an entire damn company of them on anything big enough to warrant it, and a squad or more on pretty much everything transiting through the Strait, if you deploy a pair of Wasps and their associated vessels.

What we need is an admiral gutsy enough to suggest something like this, and a captain with the skills and ambition to become the next Commodore Decatur...

#42 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Regarding letters of marque for privateers:

According to Wikipedia, the U.S. Congress has issued such a letter only once since the War of 1812 . . . and not to the type of vessel that one might have expected.

#43 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 01:56 PM:

Scott Taylor - I like the cut of your jib.

Seriously, sounds like a plan. Add some SEALs so they can go ashore and root out the pirates at the source, and you're golden.

#44 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 07:52 PM:

#17 - I'd build "Q containers" - a standard-looking container with a medium-heavy gun such as a 25mm or 30mm chain gun, and mount them on ordinary container ships. You'd need probably four or maybe six to cover sides and fore-and-aft. If they're on the top of the container stack, you'd get pretty fair field of fire at the waterline.

#45 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Has anyone considered the possibility that this is really a desperately well-meaning but misguided attempt to roll back global warming?

#46 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:46 AM:

Only works if they wear proper regalia. I'm guessing none of them even have a parrot.

#47 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:50 AM:

42: the US issued a letter of marque in 1942 to a civilian-crewed airship? OK, when did we enter that alternate history?

#48 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 12:03 PM:

ajay @ 47: Whatever do you mean? The skies have always been green, and patrolled by airships.

#49 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 12:17 PM:

#47, ajay, that's not the crazy part. The crazy part is them landing on that fog-shrouded island and having to fight dinosaurs. And only Doug McClure made it off...

#50 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:21 PM:

48: well, I was just surprised by the article talking about "the United States" when, from context, they clearly mean the Federated Crown Colonies of North America. This must be one of those Intergrid jokes the kids are so keen on nowadays. You know, like LOLDogs.

#51 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:24 PM:

Ajay #38- where did that (all too true) bit of doggerel come from?

#52 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:38 PM:

ajay #47: the US issued a letter of marque in 1942 to a civilian-crewed airship? OK, when did we enter that alternate history?

That sounds like it would make a great sequel to "Custer's Last Jump".

#53 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 02:06 PM:

Reading the last dozen or so comments -- I feel as if I've fallen into a David Weber novel!

#54 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 03:01 PM:

Hmmm. And just who would be Cordelia Ransom? Never mind. I figured it out.

#55 ::: Leroy F. Berven ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 03:02 PM:

Which might be more plausible if there were any serious prospect of Congressional action on this proposal.

#56 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:53 PM:

And has no one ever written some fiction about this airship privateer? Or its alternate universe? (Dibs, dibs!)

#57 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 08:45 PM:

50: What is this "LOLdogs" of which you speak? Are they anything like MACrats?

#58 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:19 PM:

Guthrie (@51), the quatrain(?) at ajay's #38 is by Humbert Wolfe. His most-quoted, & parodied verse. Some more of his poems and a potted bio at those links.

Ginger, all indeed is well, do not your giant oak trees still migrate south every winter?

#59 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:42 PM:

Epacris @ 58: Indeed they do -- they're pulling up roots this week in preparation of their great migration.

#60 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:11 PM:

The cool thing is that Ron Paul, who advocated the re-introduction of letters of marque and reprisal, also used an airship in his presidential campaign.

Truly, we are living on an alternate timeline.

#61 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Airships are the wrong tool here. What we need is a larger force of iceberg aircraft carriers patrolling the dangerous parts of the sea. Her Majesty's Ice Navy can sweep the seas clean of pirates, if given enough time and wood pulp.

#62 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 12:06 PM:

...airship privateers operating from iceberg bases in international waters.

It's clearly the only way to keep the sealanes safe from the threat of ptero-pirates.

#63 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 12:10 PM:

Well, you know, those ornithopters can skim the waves. You never see them coming.

The airships better be filled with something inert, lest the phosphorus guns set off a disaster, though.

#64 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 12:59 PM:

I was puttering around Google, looking up the history of LOLdogs and noted, of course, the popularity of C. M. Coolidge's "Dogs Playing Poker" series of oil paintings from the early 20th century. About the earliest LOLdogs I can think of are the Chinese happiness dogs, widely represented in artwork of the period.

#65 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 10:54 AM:

joann @ 56, you may find something to your taste at the Spontoon Islands website. There are airship battles in Walt Reimer's Rain Island stories.

As for LOLdogs, I also recall pictures of foxes in traditional fox-hunting garb.

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 11:47 PM:

Dave #65:

In the last two books in Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, an airship plays a moderately important role, including taking part in several battles.

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