The New Barbary Pirates

On October 31, 1803 the U.S.S. Philadelphia was captured when she ran aground some five miles east of Tripoli harbor. One of the ships that captured the Philadelphia was the bomb ketch Mastico. On December 23, 1803 the Mastico was in turn captured by the U.S.S. Enterprise (the second of this name) under the command of Lt. Stephen Decatur. The Mastico was renamed the U.S.S. Intrepid. On the night of February 16, 1804 Decatur in command of the Intrepid sailed into Tripoli harbor to burn the Philadelphia before it could be used as a corsair against merchant shipping. Leading a force of sixty seamen he captured the Philadelphia without firing a gun. He then ordered the ship fired. Decatur was the last man to leave the burning deck. British Lord Horatio Nelson upon hearing of the raid was said to have called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

On February 22, 2011 Somali pirates executed four Americans who they had captured with their yacht. At the time the United States Navy was negotiating with the pirates for their release. In a confusing end to the standoff two kidnappers were also killed, while two others were found dead under unclear circumstances. Fifteen others were captured. This all occurred while four naval warships were tracking the captured yacht.

Since 2005 Somali pirates have preyed on merchant shipping passing by Somalia on the way to and from the Suez Canal. As of December 11, 2010, they are holding at least 35 ships with more than 650 hostages. A multinational coalition naval task force was formed in 2001 and consists of vessels from nine nations currently. They have been joined at various times by eight other countries. Unfortunately, they have not been able to stop the piracy. Witness the 35 vessels that are being held currently. Their purpose is to get ransom money for release of the crew, ship, and cargo. Pirates’ income from ransom has been estimated to be about $58 million in 2009 and $238 million in 2010. Direct costs of piracy are much higher and estimated to be between $7 to 12 billion as they also include insurance, naval support, legal proceedings, re-routing of slower ships, and individual protective steps taken by ship-owners. Further, piracy in Somalia leads to a decrease of revenue for Egypt as fewer ships use the Suez Canal (estimated loss of about $642 million), impedes trades with a number of countries such as Kenya and Yemen, and is detrimental to tourism and fishing in the Seychelles. The East African Seafarers’ Association estimates that there are at least five pirate gangs and a total of 1,000 armed men.

Rather than create a force of marines to clean out the pirate bases, the international community continues this ruinously expensive non-action. There are those who ascribe the pirates’ motives to the destruction of their fishing grounds due to toxic waste dumping. If that is the case then the international community would be better served by preventing dumping and spending the protection costs on cleaning up the waste. Whatever the motives these modern-day Barbary pirates must be stopped. The international community must stop kicking this can down the road for another generation to resolve.


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