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Sea Transportation: No Harm In Trying
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August 19, 2011: The EU (European Union) is seeking a Somali pirate cultural advisor. The recruiting ad makes it clear that the successful applicant must be able to give expert advice on how Somali culture influences and sustains piracy, and be knowledgeable about how the Somali pirates currently operate. The EU, and other nations dependent on sea transport, are growing increasingly frustrated with the Somali pirates. At the moment, none of the existing “solutions” is very useful. New ideas and techniques are being sought. Currently, there are three main choices for dealing with the pirates.

You can keep doing what is currently being done, which is patrolling the Gulf of Aden and shooting only when you see speedboats full of gunmen threatening a merchant ship. The custom appears to be that you fire lots of warning shots, and rarely fire at the pirates themselves. This approach has saved a few ships from capture, and the more warships you get into the Gulf, the more pirate attacks you can foil. But it won't stop the pirates from capturing ships. Establishing a similar anti-piracy patrol off the east coast of Africa would cost over half a billion dollars a year, at least.

A second approach is to be more aggressive. In other words, your ships and helicopters shoot (pirates) on sight and shoot to kill. Naturally, the pirates will hide their weapons (until they are in the act of taking a ship), but it will still be obvious what a speedboat full of "unarmed" men are up to. You could take a chance (of dead civilians and bad publicity) and shoot up any suspicious speedboat, or larger mother ship. Some of the pirates would probably resort to taking some women and children with them. Using human shields is an old Somali custom, and usually works against Westerners. More pirate attacks will be thwarted with this approach, but the attacks will continue, and NATO will be painted as murderous bullies in the media.

The third option is to go ashore and kill or capture all the pirates, or at least as many as you can identify. Then destroy pirate boats and weapons. This is very dangerous, because innocent (or somewhat innocent) civilians will be killed or injured, and the property of non-pirates will be damaged. The anti-piracy forces will be condemned in some quarters for committing atrocities. There might even be indictments for war crimes. There will be bad publicity. NATO will most likely avoid this option too.

The bottom line is that the pirate attacks, even if they took two or three times as many ships as last year, would not have a meaningful economic impact on world shipping. Total cost to shipping companies (ransoms, extra fuel, security equipment and services) is over $5 billion a year. In addition, the international anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden costs $300 million a year, a fraction of a percent of the defense budgets of the nations involved. Politicians and bureaucrats can stand that kind of pain, and will likely do so and refrain from doing anything bold in Somalia. But the EU is seeking to find a new technique that will eliminate the Somali pirates, without costing a lot of money, or causing a lot of bad press. No harm in trying.

Meanwhile, the pirates, and those who work for them, are getting rich. Last year, pirates got paid over $200 million in ransom. Most of that was taken by the pirate gang leaders, investors, local warlords and Persian Gulf negotiators who deal with the shipping companies. But for the pirates who took the ship, then helped guard it for months until the money was paid, the take was still huge. Pirates who actually boarded the ship tend to receive at least $150,000 each, which is ten times what the average Somali man makes over his entire lifetime. Even the lowest ranking member of the pirate gang gets a few thousand dollars per ransom. The general rule is that half the ransom goes to the financiers, the gang leaders and ransom negotiators. About a quarter of the money goes to the crew that took the ship, with a bonus for whoever got on board first. The pirates who guard the ship and look after the crew gets ten percent, while about ten percent goes to local clans and warlords, as protection money (or bribes).

There is no shortage of eager young Somalis seeking to join the pirate gangs. Most will not get much more than weapons, food, and the use of a speed boat. If they want to make more, they have to capture a ship and hold it for ransom. The dozen or so pirate gangs, led by men who were local warlords or tribal leaders, get really rich. There are plenty of local warlords and merchants who will finance new pirate gangs, in return for up to 50 percent of whatever that gang gets in ransoms over a certain period. The money men will advance several hundred thousand dollars, often buying needed weapons and equipment, as well as providing technical advice. This makes it clear that, for the pirates, it's a business.

Much of the money obtained from ransoms is used to buy goods and services from Persian Gulf merchants and other "specialists." This includes assistance in negotiating with the shipping and insurance companies, as well as other services. This includes intelligence. The Persian Gulf is rife with corruption, and this makes it easier to buy needed information. That's harder to do in London (the center of the maritime insurance industry, and where much information on where the most valuable ships is found). British police have detected some efforts to obtain information for pirates, and believe these efforts are becoming more intense.

The pirates are media savvy, and are pushing the line that they are simply patriots, getting payback for the foreigners who illegally fish in Somali waters (common) and dump toxic wastes off the coast (rare, but makes for great headlines). There are over a thousand gunmen attached to pirate gangs in the north, although the group operating off the east coast pay "taxes" to al Shabaab for the use of several fishing villages. Most of the ships seized late last year were taken closer to the Yemeni coast, thus showing that the entire Gulf of Aden (between Yemen and Somalia, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the entrance to the Red Sea to the west) was subject to pirate attacks. Despite the scary headlines this has generated, world trade, or even traffic to the Suez Canal (at the north end of the Red Sea) is not threatened. While ten percent of world shipping traffic goes through the Gulf of Aden each year, most of it is in ships too fast for the pirates to catch, and too large for them to easily get aboard. These ships pay higher fuel costs (for the safer high speed transit), higher insurance premiums, and several days of "danger pay" for their unionized crews, and that's it. This increases the annual operating costs of these ships by a fraction of one percent. But for smaller, and slower, freighters, mostly serving local customers, the pirates remain a problem. These ships tend to be owned by African and Arab companies, and manned by African and Arab crews. These crews are often just murdered at sea, and their boats taken to be used as mother ships. The EU hopes their new cultural expert will be able to make sense of Somali customs like this, and find an exploitable weakness.

 

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Skylark       8/19/2011 8:49:11 PM
They're over-thinking it.  The ocean is a vast place and once a boat is out of sight of land, there are no witnesses.  Shoot....Sink....and SHUT UP!  If enough pirate crews start going out to sea and then never come back....problem solved. ;)
 
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WarNerd       8/19/2011 11:54:50 PM
Piracy is a business, and therefore driven by economics. Currently it is seen as low risk with a high return, this must be changed. Risk to individual pirates of being captured and/or killed will not be enough as long as successful pirates can get immediate and substantial status in their community by bring in huge rewards, this should be the target.
Behind each pirate operation is a warlord.
Behind each warlord is a tribe.
Behind each tribe is a clan.
 
Determine the connections. If a clan has more than one tribe involved in piracy, target the clan. Otherwise the initial target should be the tribe, but expand to the clan if they respond in support.
 
Identify the clan’s enemies and select one. Repeat the process used in Afghanistan, have special forces make contact and offer a temporary alliance. Some money and weapons will be involved, but the main item should be fire support via aircraft. The ally attacks to draw out the targets defenders and the special forces smash them with airstrikes. Then ally then overruns the targets villages, etc., then on to the next target and repeat. Refugees fall back on the rest of the tribe ahead of the ally advance depleting the tribal reserves while the allied (enemy) tribe takes control of any stationary wealth. The end result is the tribe becomes more and more impoverished instead of wealthy.
 
A note on hostages, the conditions for stopping the attack on a tribe will include the return of all hostages or producing an alternative if a hostage dies for any reason. The alternative is 10 heads of tribal officials selected by us per dead hostage. These heads will not be accepted as long as the bodies are attached. Forcing them to kill and mutilate their own leaders will eliminate any possibility of their later claiming that they were not defeated.
 
The end game here is that the clans and tribes will prevent their own people from engaging in piracy, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.
 
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RtWingCon       8/20/2011 3:05:38 AM


Piracy is a business, and therefore driven by economics. Currently it is seen as low risk with a high return, this must be changed. Risk to individual pirates of being captured and/or killed will not be enough as long as successful pirates can get immediate and substantial status in their community by bring in huge rewards, this should be the target.


Behind each pirate operation is a warlord.

Behind each warlord is a tribe.

Behind each tribe is a clan.

 

Determine the connections. If a clan has more than one tribe involved in piracy, target the clan. Otherwise the initial target should be the tribe, but expand to the clan if they respond in support.

 

Identify the clan’s enemies and select one. Repeat the process used in Afghanistan, have special forces make contact and offer a temporary alliance. Some money and weapons will be involved, but the main item should be fire support via aircraft. The ally attacks to draw out the targets defenders and the special forces smash them with airstrikes. Then ally then overruns the targets villages, etc., then on to the next target and repeat. Refugees fall back on the rest of the tribe ahead of the ally advance depleting the tribal reserves while the allied (enemy) tribe takes control of any stationary wealth. The end result is the tribe becomes more and more impoverished instead of wealthy.

 

A note on hostages, the conditions for stopping the attack on a tribe will include the return of all hostages or producing an alternative if a hostage dies for any reason. The alternative is 10 heads of tribal officials selected by us per dead hostage. These heads will not be accepted as long as the bodies are attached. Forcing them to kill and mutilate their own leaders will eliminate any possibility of their later claiming that they were not defeated.

 

The end game here is that the clans and tribes will prevent their own people from engaging in piracy, because the alternative is too terrible to contemplate.


plan may work, but its amps up the brutality factor a 1000 fold in the courts of world opinion and no leader is going to expose themselves to it, not even the chinese. Backing one murderous clan against another, given the propensity to use machetes on women and children, exposure too great. Too complex, and remember who were dealing with, friend today pirate tomorrow, and why should they trust outsiders? Skylark had it right, make it simple, shoot them at sea, sink their boats. Still hurts their "business", losing boats and men will ramp up the risk factor, and the "successful" ones will be the ones who retire. This is the likely solution the world will come to exercise once the shipping losses reach a tipping point. 
I've advocated using Cobras to sink everything bigger than a dugout canoe along the coast. Less loss of life, no need to go ashore, and gets the point across. UAV patrol for anything missed.
 
HEre's one more thought, pull all military assets out of the area. Forget piracy patrols entirely. Then the shipping companies will have to take of it themselves. They'll get international laws passed to let them aggressively protect themselves. Time to ween them off the military teet.
 
 
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WarNerd       8/20/2011 3:49:04 AM
plan may work, but its amps up the brutality factor a 1000 fold in the courts of world opinion and no leader is going to expose themselves to it, not even the chinese. Backing one murderous clan against another, given the propensity to use machetes on women and children, exposure too great. Too complex, and remember who were dealing with, friend today pirate tomorrow, and why should they trust outsiders? Skylark had it right, make it simple, shoot them at sea, sink their boats. Still hurts their "business", losing boats and men will ramp up the risk factor, and the "successful" ones will be the ones who retire. This is the likely solution the world will come to exercise once the shipping losses reach a tipping point.
I've advocated using Cobras to sink everything bigger than a dugout canoe along the coast. Less loss of life, no need to go ashore, and gets the point across. UAV patrol for anything missed.
And 97 out of every 100 boats you sink will really be innocent fishermen. I suppose their communities can just starve to death. Also, if you keep sinking all of their boats, how do you know when to stop?
 
And you called my plan brutal.
HEre's one more thought, pull all military assets out of the area. Forget piracy patrols entirely. Then the shipping companies will have to take of it themselves. They'll get international laws passed to let them aggressively protect themselves. Time to ween them off the military teet.
The primary purpose of a navy is to protect your ocean commerce. If the shipping companies have to create their own Private Navy to handle the job, then how long before they throw their political clout behind eliminating the your Navy as a waste of money? After all, it is of no value to them.
 
But the real fun will be when an armed merchant vessel pulls into a port, opens fire on the port authority and dispatches raiders to loot the place, before burning it to the ground. Let’s hear it for the ‘good’ old days.
 
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