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Last month, pirates murdered four Americans aboard the S/V Quest off the coast of Somalia. The 58' Quest was shadowed by a 4-ship US Navy task force of some 130,000 tons including an aircraft carrier. Despite its impressive size and firepower, it could not save the captured Americans.
Somali Pirates currently hold over 700 hostages and 33 vessels (International Maritime Bureau) for ransom payments. They are arming "mother ships" keeping hostages with them and threatening torture. This year their take is projected to reach $5B - $7B dollars - this in a country where $100 is a fortune.
The pirates are opposed by a task force of some 35 warships from 15 different nations. The NATO group called CTF-151 is the largest. Its mission is ""to actively deter, disrupt and suppress piracy."
Conclusion: Failure. Enough is enough. The current approach is little more than a band aide. The vast sea area and the range of pirate operations makes confrontation and capture a dice-roll for CTF warships. Pirate rewards for seizing a ship far outweigh the risks. Pirates are becoming more violent.
Needed Actions: Kill known pirates and take away their land-based sanctuaries. UN resolution 1851/1897 authorize states to conduct land-based operations agains the pirates. They were passed in 2008 and have not been used to date.
Quick Fix: Use the same US military drones that seek out and destroy Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan to kill pirates in Somalia. No boots on ground required.
Mid-range Fix: Introduce contractors paid by the international community into the tribal areas to organize, equip, train, and support local Somali forces that then could attack pirate havens. Pay those Somali forces well so they would not be open to bribes.
Major General Wilkerson is CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Maryland
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