March 24, 2006

Piracy in international waters - Or what is the role of the US Navy

Southeast Asia - Indonesia in green

I've been keeping my eye on the Malacca Strait (pink arrow in map) for a long time. Although the Strait narrows to less than two miles in width at one point, a significant portion of the world's shipping passes through this area, including nearly all of the petroleum imported to Asia (esp. to China and Japan). It would be a trip of over 1,000 miles to go around the Malacca Strait.

That's fair enough, piracy still exists. It just doesn't exist in waters controlled by American commanders. But the main point still stands. The existence of piracy in waters that are controlled by Japan, Indonesia, Australia, and China as compared to the Persian Gulf, mediterranean and the Atlantic is a good contrast.

It would be problematic to say that America prevents piracy if there was no piracy. Hard to prove something that doesn't exist. That tends to produce people who say that piracy evaporated because of speaking Truth to Power, like when the Berlin Wall fell.

and I agree with that, but even an organization that powerful can't stop piracy/hijackings/illegal boardings everywhere

Our Navy can do it. Stop piracy everywhere, that is. But it would require an American Imperial will that is strong enough to overule and intimidate local governments. Since we'd be using our submarines to blow up pirate vessels on our permission, not on anyone else's. Regardless of whose flag the target flies. That can cause problems, if we didn't have an understanding with certain nations.

So I differ on the technical basis. Meaning, I think the problem is political, not military.

but even an organization that powerful can't stop piracy/hijackings/illegal boardings everywhere, and unfortunately, such acts are commonplace in some areas of the world.

It is not surprising that they are common. But most criminal gangs are state sponsored, privateers in other words. Such a network of piracy would require a network, and state sponsorship. Which probably makes it the terroist's funding source and black market.

Piracy seems to be very common in the chaotic parts of the world. As in the 17th century, the colonies in America were constantly raided by other nation's privateers and freelance pirates. Not only ships, but entire towns and capitals were looted and slaughtered. Sometimes more than once in a row.

The pirates today are a mixed bunch and can be found all over the world and can be anyone from a highly trained guerilla warrior to a rogue military unit (such as in Indonesia) to part of an international criminal gang or cartel. Pirates might also be part of international terrorist organizations (particularly Abu Sayaf out of the Philippines, which has strong links to Al-Qaeda as well as Asian crime syndicates and the heroin trade) or even simply local down-and-out fishermen who see a rich prize steaming by and can't resist (he states that poverty has driven many to piracy in the Caribbean, in Nigeria, Bangladesh, and elsewhere). Burnett writes that pirate weapons can vary from knives and machetes to modern assault rifles and grenade launchers. Pirates have even been known to have an insider in the crew of a ship, planted there to assist in a plan act of piracy.

The reader will discover that pirates can attack any ship - ranging from small private yachts to the largest of the supertankers - in any locale, including port or on open, international waters. The goal of the pirates can vary from robbing the ship's safe and the sailors of their personal possessions (such as money and jewelry) to the ship's cargo (be it millions of dollars in petroleum or on a private yacht the expensive electronics) to the ship and the sailors themselves, the former turned into a phantom ship that is used to smuggle weapons, drugs, or illegal immigrants, the latter fodder for a thriving international kidnapping trade (that is if the crew are not simply killed and dumped overboard).

Pirates can be found anywhere in the world though the main areas that they seem to operate in are west from Indonesian waters to as far east as Taiwan and the Philippines (favoring the vital shipping lanes through the Malacca Straits and the dangerous waters of the South China Sea), as well as off the coast of Brazil, off the Somali coast of East Africa, and West Africa. The Malacca Straits in particular are a vital area plagued at times by pirates; as $500 billion in goods passes through it annually, sometimes as many as 600 ships a day going through the Straits, which in some places are less than a mile wide, it is a target rich environment for pirates but one that is not particularly well policed. Though some waters where pirates operate are regularly patrolled - the Royal Malaysian Marine Police and the Singapore marine police are very active against pirates - other countries are unable or unwilling to work against them, with in Indonesia some military units either working with the pirates or pirates themselves. His description of the South China Sea - bordered by Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Taiwan - was particularly chilling, an area where international laws and standards aren't particularly well-enforced; which he writes is an "unpatrolled black hole where unarmed vessels and their civilian crews simply fall off the edge of the planet," an area where Abu Sayaf rebels have been know to attack ships with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades and kidnap rich tourists off of resort islands.

This is part of a review from the Amazon Book Dangerous Waters .

I notice that the pirates don't wantonly kill the crew more often than not. Perhaps even they understand that if they catch the notice of the United States Navy, that they would be ended in 6 months.

President Bush has a problem, in that he does not apply our strength against the terroist's weaknesses. One of the terroist's weaknesses is that they tend to congregate in chaotic parts of the world, and use crime to fuel their terror machine. They are also minimally present on the seas, and terroists on the high seas are bereft of much of their propaganda advantages. Such as tv crews, hand cameras, and various other things. They can't slip away into the night and meld with civilians, like they can in afghanistan and Baghdad. It would be ridiculously easy to execute the crew of a pirate ship and cover it up, but let the terroists know we did. It would be ridiculously easy to torpedo suspected terrorist ships and the ship would just go "missing" if there were no survivors.

Pirates is an economics game, just like suicide bombings is. Cut their economic life rope, and they're dead.


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