American Morning

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April 9th, 2009
10:44 AM ET

Commentary: We need a new piracy strategy, to get on offense

Charles Swift, former Naval Defense Attorney, spoke with T.J. Holmes on CNN’s American Morning Thursday.
Charles Swift, former Naval Defense Attorney, spoke with T.J. Holmes on CNN’s American Morning Thursday.

Pirates are holding a U.S. captain hostage at sea. The Navy is watching everything that happens. So where does the law get involved in protecting merchant vessels and stopping piracy?

Charles Swift, former Naval Defense Attorney, spoke with T.J. Holmes on CNN’s American Morning Thursday.

T.J. Holmes: Just who is policing these waters?

Charles Swift: Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, all navies, all navies of the world share a joint responsibility for policing international waters and that’s where these things are taking place, in international waters.

Holmes: We've seen so many of these cases where the company seems be to be in charge, the private company that owns these ships pay the ransoms, seemingly, without any government intervening. Why is that happening?

Swift: What the pirates do is they move the ships from international waters into the internal waters of Somalia and then they negotiate directly with the companies, with the navies being outside that 13 mile nautical range limit around Somalia itself, and the companies pay through intermediaries until they have their ships get back under way because of loss of money.

Holmes: Even if the ship was taken in international waters, once in Somali waters the government and militaries can't pursue them?

Swift: You can engage in hot pursuit but often the navies don't know until the ship is already into internal waters. But, yes, it makes a significant difference. You can think about it as the posse coming up to a county line or some part and having to stop because they no longer have jurisdiction.

Holmes: Let's talk about this particular case with these Americans. Who would be in charge? Does the Navy have the right to intervene if they want to because that ship has an American flag on it?

Swift: It absolutely does. Under international law and U.S. law, because it is a U.S.-flagged carrier, we have the absolute right to intervene and the responsibility, the United States Navy does. While the company might want to negotiate, ultimately, it will be the Navy's call.

Holmes: If the U.S. Military or any other military, any other government did happen to intervene, to arrest some of these pirates, what do you do with them? Where can you take them?

Swift: In the U.S. flagged vessel’s case, the Alabama’s case, it's very clear. They can be tried in U.S. Courts for piracy both under international law and U.S. statute. The more difficult case is what do you do with pirates who aren't attacking a U.S. Vessel. Remember, only one out of the hundreds of attacks has been a U.S. Vessel and that is a very difficult question and something that's been hampering all operations is what do you do, especially if you capture pirates, ideally, before they've started the act of piracy.

Holmes: This is a vast area to try to police, but does more need to be done to clamp down on what’s happening off the coast of Africa?

Swift: Absolutely. This is an unacceptable situation. As Secretary Clinton said, we're going to need help. It is a vast area. Our Navy alone can't patrol it. We're also going to need help with the change in the law. The law certainly provides rules if an act of piracy has occurred, what to do. But as we're seeing, waiting for that moment, until the pirates actually attack, is not working. That's not an effective strategy. We need a strategy allows us to go out, identify pirates, stop those vessels, and try and detain those persons before they've ever had a chance to get on board. Because once the pirates - the act of piracy has occurred, we're generally playing from behind. We need to get on the offense instead of staying on the defense.


Filed under: Piracy
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. John

    Why don't we find one of the pirate groups, offer to pay them a tax or levy for every ship passing through the area in question as long as none of the ships are attacked. They then have a steady stream of income with which to insure that no one else attacks these ships, which the safest way for them to do that would be to employ the other pirate groups. In effect you would treating them as a de facto government or navy of Somalia. If they succeed the region will be safer for shipping and there would be a new armed force in Somalia whose primary motivation would not be power itself or any religious or tribal agenda that has disrupted Somalia so much but money and commerce.

    The only difference between a patriot and a terrorist is who wins and the only difference between a pirate and a navy is licensing.

    April 15, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  2. Alberto

    On account of the late incident of piracy against the Liberty Sun, wich was planned by these thugs under the cover of darkness,i forgot to advise adding to the inventory the crews should be equipped with night infra-red vision devices, as used by the military. After being hit by RPG`S, luckyly without having casualties, it makes lot of logical sense to me firepower should be responded at the same level if we want to make an impact positively on the strategy being used by pirates. Barb wire, and other strategy simply will buy some extra minutes to the crew under attack, but same token fire response would neutralize them right on the spot. Lets remember the size advantage of a large vessel versus a skiff. Pirates would be at an immediate disatvantage, and they would be forced in this way to realize they can `t continue in this course without paying a heavy price. Meanwhile, i agree that work must be done to try strategy on land simultaneously, with the intent to provide means (all means considered) to stabilize Somalia politically, and economically. This should be done not by the U.S. alone, but with the orchestrated cooperation of the countries exercising their presence in this scenario, as this has become an international concern issue. The sooner the strategy of Pirates is curbed, and contained, the sooner they will depose their actions. They should be forced to understand that the international community knows also how to deal in lead.
    Alberto.

    April 15, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  3. Richard

    Excuse me but, why can't a look out or gaurd be posted? Use night vision and search lights and simply pour ignitable fuel over the side and light it? It seems like a great deterant tactic as well. I doubt seriously that a ships hull would be damaged by a small fuel fire on a small boat next to them.

    April 14, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  4. Alberto

    Mr. President Obama : The war on terror has a new front. So far piracy acts on merchant ships concentrate off tte coast of Somalia currently, and if left unchallenged effectively by the navies and merchant marine of the international community, who knows where the next scenario may occur. There should be no quarrel with these thugs, and a joint international effort by those countries equipped with enough naval and air forces combined resources should begin immediately with one objective : Search and Destroy these delincuents of the seas , wherever intelligence provides a definite and confirmed location, either on their bases of operations, or their destruction on the spot chosen to commit their next assault. Ships (merchant) should be armed and equipped with trained personnel to respond to any attempt of assault by these low-lifes ot he seas, since effective armed combat air and sea patrols cannot cover every location in such a large portion of ocean scenario. Therefore, adequate firepower on ships to match weapons used by the pirates employed by selective and trained personnel, aggressive naval-air patrols, intel, and a no quarrell martial law on the spot, should suffice to curb, and gradually eliminate this treat from the seas. United we stand. Mr. President, you have the power and proven leadership to unite peoples and countries for a common and just cause this challenge represents. Time is of the essense. No country can be safe without safe seas. The country should be proud of the incredible accurate and decisive action taken by the U.S. Navy Seals in rescuing the Captain of the Alabama, and taking down three of the pirates under your leadership as Commander in Chief. The message has been sent clearly to these thugs. Many have underestimated your resolve and decition making ability as commander-in-chief interacting with the armed forces you command. Now, there can be no doubt the gap out of lack of leadership left behind by the previous administration has been closed with this action, and your armed forces have responded effectively to your command. Congratulations.
    Alberto Eleta.

    April 13, 2009 at 8:54 am |
  5. Alberto

    The war on terror has a new front. The coast off Somalia currently, and , if left unchallenged by the navies of the international community, who knows where the next scenario may occur. There should be no quarrel with these thugs, and a joint, international effort by those countries equipped with enough naval, and air forces combined should begin immediately with one objective : Search and Destroy these delincuents of the seas , wherever intelligence provides a definite and confirmed location, either on their bases of operations, if they have them, with all probability, or their destruction, on the spot chosen by them to commit next assault. Ships should be armed and equipped with trained personnel to respond to any attempt of assault by these low-lifes ot he seas, in addittion to armed naval patrols. Firepower on ships, aggressive naval-air patrols, intel, and a no quarrell martial law on the spot, should suffice to curb, and , or, eliminate this treat from the seas. United, we stand.

    April 12, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  6. Fernando

    Hola
    Es inaceptable estos actos de pirateria y terrorismo, pero lo que no se entiende es como las grandes naciones permite que esto suceda.
    Cuanta bulla se hace porque Venezuela compre unos aviones, o por que Corea lance un cohetico. En cambio los piratas nadie le hace nada, como si eso fuera una actividad normal , licita. como es posible que un grupo de forragidos, maleantes, matones, hagan lo que desean, y nadie le hace nada. Eso es lo que no se entiende, que les cuesta bajo mandato de la ONU, fuerzas especiales de Rusia, EU, China, Francia , Inglaterra, alemania, Vietnam, Israel, Egipto, Turkia, ect, envian un buque Mercante enorme con mas de 1,000 comandos dentros para que lo secuestren, luego paracaidistan ocupan las vias terrestre y avanzan hacia ellos en conjuto con la marina con corbetas y lanchas rapidas,helcopteros. y finalizan esa acciones piratas

    April 10, 2009 at 11:25 am |
  7. Taunter

    Whatever the outcome of the negotiation, it should be the clear policy of the Navy to make certain the pirates never see land again. If they give up the captain and try to sail for shore, sink them; if they surrender, hang them from the yard of the Bainbridge.

    This is like an attack on a US Embassy, and it is ridiculous that we would even allow them food and water.

    There was a time it would take a particularly brave pirate to stand up to an Arleigh Burke destroyer. It can be that time again, if the military shows some resolve.

    http://tauntermedia.com/2009/04/10/piracy/

    April 10, 2009 at 4:31 am |
  8. Mitchel

    Ditto to Swifts comments. He stated the problems well, and provided a reasonable solution for success.

    April 10, 2009 at 1:32 am |