SOMALI pirates got a shock last week: The ship they seized carried
dozens of Russian-built tanks, along with a wealth of heavy weapons and
ammo. It was more than they'd bargained for.
As I write, the Faina sits at anchor off a notorious pirate port,
its crew held captive by 30 or more Somalis. US Navy warships circle
the vessel. Our helicopters buzz its deck.
We don't want that weaponry falling into terrorist hands. The
Somalis lack the facilities to unload 40-ton tanks, but the smaller
weapons aboard would delight the local al Qaeda franchise.
But we don't know what to do next. Neither do the pirates, who
caught a whale by the tail. We'd like them to drop their $20-million
ransom demand. They'd like us to go away. Meanwhile, the pirates may
have killed a number of their own for opaque reasons.
Chartered through a Ukrainian front company, the Faina's a typical
post-Soviet arms smuggler: Its cargo is manifested to the Kenyan
military, but the true destination for those T-72 tanks is either
Sudan's government, which is under an international arms embargo, or
southern-Sudanese rebels chafing under a rickety peace deal. The
Kenyans are just middlemen making a buck.
The pirates attacked the wrong ship and screwed up everything.
Playing hide-and-seek along nearly 2,000 miles of coastline, Somali
pirates have attacked over five dozen vessels this year alone. Their
targets ranged from luxury yachts to oil tankers.
Pirates successfully hijacked 26 of those vessels, a dozen of which
remain captive pending ransom payments. With few exceptions, ship
owners pay up. To their credit, the French sent commandos to free a
captured yacht, killing one pirate and capturing a gang. The rest of
the world just rolls over.
Our Navy maintains an impressive presence off the Horn of Africa,
along with vessels from other NATO states. We have the surveillance
means to find and the firepower to destroy the pirate fleets of fast
boats. But we don't want to hurt anybody.
Nonetheless, The New York Times has already tilted toward the
pirates (and against our sailors), arguing that the hijackers are just
poor lads who started out defending their fishing rights and became
up-from-poverty entrepreneurs who don't like to hurt anybody. (You
almost expect Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley to pop from a hatch.)
As usual, Western leftists excuse lawlessness that terrorizes the
wretched of the earth - as long as their own wealthy neighborhoods
remain safe. (Woe unto the Pirates of Narragansett Bay!)
The response to piracy must be the same as it was when the British
brought an end to the profession's "golden age:" Sink them or board
them, kill them or hang them.
Zero tolerance is the only effective policy.
Did I mention that another Somali pirate gang recently seized an
Iranian cargo ship, which reportedly has radioactive material or
ingredients for chemical weapons aboard?
And contrary to the Times, pirates are terrorists.
Dispatched by Vladimir Putin to cover up his arms industry's role
in equipping rogue states, a Russian warship is underway to break the
standoff. The pirates aren't going to like dealing with the Russians.
We should act first. We need to know exactly what's on that ship; we need to keep those tanks out of Sudanese hands - and we need to make an example of the pirates.
But we're paralyzed by fear: What if we make a move and the pirates
attack their captives? They might - or they may fear the consequences.
Either way, it's better to risk a small amount of bloodshed now than to
let these gangs continue terrorizing the Gulf of Aden (the route to the
Suez Canal) and sea lanes stretching into the Indian Ocean.
Piracy must be exterminated. Pirates aren't folk heroes
or champions of the oppressed. They're terrorists and violent criminals
whose ransom demands start at a million bucks. And they're not
impressed by the prospect of trials in a velvet-gloved Western court.
Taking a hard line with Indonesian and Malay pirates was essential
to breaking their grip on the Straits of Malacca in recent years. If
all we intend to do off Somalia's coast is to burn up fuel in
billion-dollar warships while thugs in speedboats flip us the bird, our
Navy might as well head back to San Diego for shore leave.
Ralph Peters' latest book is "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."