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It’s those pirates again

Praveen Swami, diplomatic editor of the Daily Telegraph, has a good piece – although I might quibble on one or two points – concerning the problem of Somali piracy, about which I have written several times here at Samizdata. I am not going to add further comment to what I have already said, but I was impressed by this article and a longish comment attached to it by a person with the signature of “IgonikonJack”. It is pretty good. And another, by “itzman”, refers to the issue of “letters of marque”.

A related point is that I have been reading Wired for War, by PW Singer, and it has fascinating things to say about some remarkable new technologies as apply not just in areas such as robotics and pilotless aircraft – those “drones” – also in the innovations now under way in the nautical world. They will surely play a part in any move to suppress piracy, but as Singer points out, the bad guys can increasingly get their hands on technology as well, and often by entirely legitimate means. This is all the more reason why libertarians, who are sometimes at the cutting edge of thinking about alternatives to government-imposed laws, as in the case of legal writer Bruce Benson, should get involved in how to address issues such as piracy.

In the Daily Telegraph article I link to, is the fact that, at the time of writing, more than 1,000 people are being held hostage by Somali pirates. If the same amount of people had been taken hostage on civil airliners, say, I think the major powers of the world might have adopted a more robust view by now.

10 comments to It’s those pirates again

  • Richard Garner

    I think there was a Cato Unbound symposium on Somalia and pracy and stuff that actually included Bruce Benson. I shall try and find it.

  • Richard Garner

    I think there was a Cato Unbound symposium on Somalia and piracy and stuff that actually included Bruce Benson. I shall try and find it.

  • Richard Garner

    Arrrr, found it I did!

    (Sorry about the double post. Not sure what happened there!)

  • Dom

    “In the Daily Telegraph article I link to …”


  • Johnathan Pearce

    Link fixed

  • Paul Marks

    Repeal the regulations that prevent the crews of ships protecting themselves.

    Such as the regulations that prevent merchant ships even carring machine guns.

    A small cost – considering the value of the cargo.

    The government naval forces simply can not be everywhere at once – especially as the Royal Navy has been cut to bits (more and more over the decades) and th U.S. Navy is under terrible threat also.

    Especially in the “light” of Comrade Barack’s speech of yesterday.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks:

    Not a useful answer. The typical supertanker, bulk carrier, or containership has a crew of a few dozen and is about 300 meters long. To defend it against a swarm of 50 to 100 pirates in small craft would require lots of weapons mounts and a substantially larger crew to man them.

    The cost of these measures would be much more than the operating profits of the ship.

    The Somali pirates are clever in one respect: they keep their depredations at a low level, to avoid provoking the costly measures required to shut them down.

    This situation is probably unstable in the long term – the pirates will increase their demands until they draw such a reaction, and won’t be able to pull back due to internal reliance on the plunder.

    The “cheap” way to shut down piracy is to extend the rule of law to the land areas they operate from.

  • Laird

    No, Rich, the “cheap” way is to make piracy too expensive a proposition, i.e., by the summary execution of all pirates caught. Sink their ships and take no prisoners. Repeat a few dozen times and the problem largely disappears. That’s the time-honored method, and it works. “Extend[ing] the rule of law to the land areas they operate from” (by which I assume that you mean through external force) is a pipe dream, and even if possible would be wildly expensive.

  • Kim du Toit

    Sink their ships; destroy their safe havens; summarily execute anyone captured in the act; imprison those who give them cover or comfort.

  • David Gillies

    Even cheaper: a half dozen 475 kT W-88 Trident warheads on the pirate towns. It would be unfortunate for the hostages, of course, but any large-scale punitive operation below the nuclear threshold but sufficient to defang the pirates would likely result in their deaths anyway.