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April 10th, 2009
11:59 PM ET

Rescue the American: Not could we, but when should we?

Ken Robinson
Terrorism and national security analyst

The United States government conducted the “mother of all” Secure Video Teleconferences (SVTC) on Thursday night regarding the piracy hostage crisis off the coast of Somalia.

What’s the difference between this week’s seized vessel and any other over the past year?

A big one!

The pirates over-reached, and took as “U.S. flagged vessel” (MV Alabama), triggering a challenge of doctrine as old as the republic, Freedom of Navigation.

The Pirates also didn’t count on the crew being populated by very angry, determined ex-Marines, who fought back, and quickly retook their ship.

Currently the problem is one of the laws of the sea, and the laws of nature.

Three of the pirates made off in a life vessel, intended for deep water, not the shallow and treacherous waters of the Somali coast. The boat is currently out of fuel, and drifting. A quick glance at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web site will tell you that the boat won’t make it to shore, where according to my sources, no one wants the problems of an American hostage, anyway.

It is listing, heading north.

Some entrepreneur pirate friends are reported to be attempting a link up at sea, with a previously captured German vessel. The thinking being, bring the life boat pirates on the larger vessel, and create a bigger international problem, for all concerned.

What is all this dramas about? Money. Somalia is a failed state. Its waters are predatorily. International shipping has regarded the piracy, and the ransom they demand as part of the cost of doing business, much like our own country did, under President Thomas Jefferson.

Until one day, enough was enough. Jefferson commissioned new Navel ships, armed them, and sent them half way around the earth to crush the Barbary pirates.

The Navy and Marine Corps did its job, and our maritime doctrine of freedom of navigation was clear to the world.

Now, the USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), a guided-missile destroyer, is on station, watching the lifeboat, while a Navy P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft fly’s, and listens, from above.

An entire host of counter-terrorism units including elite U.S. Navy Seals, wait for their orders.

The issue is larger than the rescue of an American citizen. It’s a policy decision, on how to deal with a failed state that humbled the US previously (Black Hawk Down), and uncooperative International shipping owners, and their Insurance providers, who refuse on-board security, because of the price jump in annual premiums.

To date, the pirates have not killed hostages, and have returned vessels, once ransoms are paid.

I am told that these pirates had modified their demand to simply a safe passage home. The U.S., will likely provide humanitarian relief (water, food, medical supplies), but don’t expect any fuel.

Keep in mind; there is a difference between having the capability to launch a rescue, and it being prudent to do so. Sometimes the treatment can be worse than the cure. An invasion of Puntland (where the pirates have safe haven) is unthinkable.

Counter-terror professionals are involved, lives are at stake, and our national patients is required, while a new administrations deals simultaneously with a crisis, and a policy decision whose implications, like Jefferson’s may ripple well into the next hundred years.

Ken Robinson is a terrorism and national security analyst who has conducted intelligence operations in Somalia and other parts of the world.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Africa • Ken Robinson • Pirates
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Ronon

    the media needs to stop calling the Somalis who take over ships to fund jihadist groups on land Pirates. we need to stop confusing the public with such language these guys are terrorists so lets call them that. there are no Pirates in the twenty first century just terrorists. True Pirates were in the eighteenth century and before.

    April 13, 2009 at 10:05 am |
  2. alcycle

    First of all, I fault the Skipper of the Brainbridge...When the captive American jumped into the sea.......where were the 24hr sharpshooters, with M14's trained on that lifeboat??? Why were there not Frogmen in dinghys near by? Commodore Brainbridge was humiliated by Muslim Pirates..his namesake should not be! Any Pirate ship in the area, needs to be sunk on site!!! Any Pirated freighter; that steams to the scene, with hostages, should be visited by the SEALS. Any Pirates at are not killed but captured...should be given their one phone call, then be thrown free to swim home........Any village, on the coast, that is the Pirates home base... should be visited by B52's....

    April 10, 2009 at 8:44 pm |
  3. ted llewellyn

    please people...didn't we put air marshalls on flights to prevent hijacks?? why don't we just license and train crews on freighters with stinger missles and 50 cal. machine guns to eradicate pirates???? help me out here, do you think any pirate has is mind, "hey, I'm gonna take this ship for millions in ransom, even though the crew is gonna blow me out of the water? I know I'm gonna die.... let's go for it.... I don't think so... you want to stop this BS? arm the ships with enough to stop the BS, and it will stop....... in the mean time, watch it again, and again, and again, and again........ Ted PS can't fix stupid

    April 10, 2009 at 8:24 pm |