There's an avalanche of piracy related material today. Noah Shachtman has a fabulous rundown of what's wrong with several of the major proposed solutions for fighting piracy. Dave Schuler does pretty much the same bit, and comes to the same conclusions. Long story short, the super-simple proposal you've developed for ending piracy has probably already been thought of, and probably has a host of problems that you haven't considered. For example, Fred Ikle proposed a series of terrible ideas for solving piracy in the Washington Post. The silliest is a "military blockade" of Somalia, which overlooks the fact that Somalia is blessed with a very, very long coast line, that small pirate boats can easily evade even a tight blockade of warships, and that pirates are pretty much indistinguishable from fishermen. But hey, Newt Gingrich thinks it's a great idea...

Lindsay Beyerstein is worried that we're enjoying this just a trifle too much, in reference to this detailed Washington Post article on how the sniper attack was carried out. I think there's something to this, and I think that it springs from two related impulses. First, there's a certain joy associated with encountering (relatively) morally uncomplicated call for the use of force; pirates are the oldest "enemies of humanity" we've got, and killing them produces a psychological satisfaction beyond what's warranted by the actual situation. Second, it's really difficult for us to take piracy seriously, even when pirates present themselves in an objectively serious way.

Finally, Galrahn asks some necessary questions about the USN response:

It is my understanding that the standard U.S. Navy practice in maritime kidnapping situations like the Maersk Alabama incident has been to stand aside while ransom negotiations take place between the pirates and the ship owner/operator. The pirates sometimes contact the Navy, but the Navy’s practice in such instances has been to provide them with the telephone number of the ship owner/operator, so that the pirates can negotiate directly with the firm.

I have a few questions. Why didn’t that happen in this case? Why did the Navy in this instance apparently engage in direct hostage (i.e., non-ransom) negotiations with the pirates, instead of letting Maersk negotiate with the pirates for a ransom? Was it because the ship originally hijacked was a US-flag ship? Because the kidnapped person was a US national? Because the situation was logistically different in terms of the kidnapped person being on a lifeboat and the hijacked ship no longer being in the possession of the pirates? Some combination of these factors?

--Robert Farley