BBC News published this report on the failure of EU's catch-and-release tactics to stem the rising tide of Somali piracy.
The position of NAVFOR, the EU naval task force assigned to - well, I don't really know what they're assigned to do, since it doesn't seem to be stopping piracy - their position, regardless of their mission, seems to be that it's better to do nothing than take the chance that someone might get hurt. This in spite of the fact that pirates are ranging farther, using more complicated tactics and weaponry, and holding more ships and hostages than ever (30 ships and 700 hostages, according to the article.) "When you use the military, people get hurt, that's a fact," says the task force spokesman, Wing Commander Paddy O'Kennedy. To which I would reply, "Yes. That's the whole point. Hurt the pirates badly enough, and piracy becomes, once again, the sole domain of Johnny Depp."
But the Wing Commander was referring to captain of the Samho Jewellry, the hijacked South Korean merchant vessel that was recently freed by South Korean commandos. During the rescue, in which eight pirates were killed and five captured, the captain was shot in the stomach. This is, of course, lamentable, even in view of the lopsided score at game's end, but to say simply that - using the military endangers hostages' lives - is to give a skewed view of the board. First of all, it's not as if doing nothing ensures hostages' safety; two hostages were executed recently for the capital crime of failing to be Muslim, and others have died of malnutrition during their long captivity. (Hostages are generally held from 6 to 9 months, during which they sometimes peform the dual role of ballast and human shields, rotting in the holds of their own vessels, which the pirates use as mother ships.
But saying all this is to set up a false dilema. The truth of the matter is that we could effectively stop piracy in a fortnight if anyone had the guts, and it wouldn't have to endanger any hostages. The locations on the coast of Somalia that serve as jumping-off points for pirates are well known. They are small camps on desert beaches, where pirates maintain, fuel, and arm their skiffs in preparation for their sorties. These camps are free of obfuscating foliage and separate from civilian settlements. They are a targeteer's dream.
Any number of platforms suggest themselves for the pirate eradication mission I have in mind, but my personal favorite is the venerable AC-130 Gunship. Orbit a Spectre (That's the gunship's nickname, mind you, not Arlen Specter, although I'd be happy to send him to Somalia if anyone thought it would help.) off the coast on a few clear balmy Somali nights, and let it dispense a little old-school Counter Piracy. I have a feeling that would sort things out in a hurry.
Of course, there are endless lines of lawyers waiting to tell us that firing on the Somali Coast is an act of war. I have no problem with that. As a matter of fact, that would just be putting a legitmate title on what they've been doing to us all along. Besides, attacking the pirate bases is exactly what Thomas Jefferson did over two hundred years ago, and I think it's no coincidence that they haven't been much of a problem until recent times.
Oh, and a note to Wing Commander O'Kennedy - If I'm ever held by pirates, you have my permission to shoot me in the stomach if it saves me dying of scurvy or being executed for being a Christian.