American officials said the pirates on the yacht, called the Quest, seemed relieved — even “exceptionally calm” — when told their senior commander was cooling his heels in a Navy brig.
But hours later, panic ensued among young pirates. Some Americans theorized that a fight had broken out among the gang members, suddenly leaderless, and fearing they were about to be overtaken by the four Navy warships that surrounded them. One person who has talked to associates of the pirates said their leader had told them that if he did not return, they should kill the hostages, though American officials say they do not know that to be the case.
The episode finally came to an end when the pirates fired an RPG at the Sterett; five minutes later, 15 Navy SEALs stormed the yacht, killing one pirate, wounding another and taking 13 more into custody. The bodies of the dead hostages were found onboard the Quest.
Let's review: American yacht is seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. U.S. Navy vessels surround the yacht, preventing them from sailing to Somalia. Then, instead of mounting a rescue operation, U.S. authorities begin to negotiate with the pirates. When the talks fail (and the shooting starts), SEALs quickly take control of the yacht, and fourteen of the pirates wind up with their comrade in the Sterett's brig.
To be fair, there was no guarantee a rescue mission would have resulted in the safe return of all the hostages. But years of "negotiating" with the pirates and paying ransom (as various shipping companies and European nations have done) only encourage this sort of behavior.
Indeed, piracy has become the only viable enterprise in the failed state called Somalia; almost three years ago, the U.K. Times estimated that piracy was a $35 million-a-year business in the tiny village of Eyl, home for many of the terrorists. At any given time, a number of hijacked vessels are anchored off the coast, and more than 200 western hostages are being held at various locations around the village.
In terms of cash flow, the pirates' current haul is probably two or three times what it was in 2008. Expensive villas, on the scale of those seen in the oil kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, have sprung up around Eyl, replacing the tin-roofed shacks where the pirates once lived. Others are getting rich off the "business" as well, including the tribal elders and middlemen who negotiate payoffs for the pirates, along with building contractors, car dealers and gun merchants.
On many days, residents of the village can see western warships off the coast. But they have little reason to fear the naval presence. Weapons that could flatten Eyl in a matter of moments--or support an amphibious operation to capture the pirates and free their captives--are never used. At most, a vessel like the Sterett will be used to block the escape of a captured vessel, or a negotiating platform. Somewhere, John Paul Jones must be spinning in his grave.
Clearly, piracy is a complex issue, but there's little reason to complicate the matter with Queensbury rules that do nothing to alleviate the problem. Those pirates currently on the Sterett will soon be flown to the United States, where they will be put on trial for the murder of the four American hostages, and spend the rest of their lives in a federal prison--at taxpayer expense.
No one disputes the notion that the pirates should face justice for killing our missionaries. But there may be more effective ways to hold the pirates accountable, and those options certainly include military action. Our current approach clearly isn't working; as Galrahn at InformationDissemination noted yesterday, existing U.S. policies are actually making the problem worse:
In my view, this is a complete, total, and absolute failure by the current Commander in Chief who appears to be incapable of setting objectives with Somali piracy, and anyone who lacks the gonads to say exactly that needs to have a damn good argument why the United States Navy is otherwise incapable of dealing with men carrying AK-47s and RPGs in little skiffs. The media and the think tank community is made up of chicken shit cowards who refuse to ask why the US Navy sails circles around the Gulf of Aden while piracy gets worse, and under no circumstances will anyone criticize the Obama administration for an aimless, endless perpetual violence policy in the Indian Ocean. What is the point of continuous military operations without objectives?
Can someone explain why the US Navy is sailing $2 billion destroyers around the Indian Ocean not fighting pirates while all the governments on the North African coast are imploding, and the US Navy can manage only a single destroyer in the entire Mediterranean Sea right now?
Col. David Coffman, about one year ago, sat in front of a huge audience in San Diego and discussed about 2 dozen options other than invading Somalia that the 13 MEU could do to dramatically decrease piracy events in the Indian Ocean. He and the 13 MEU deployed today to that region, why not allow Marines be Marines, and give some of those options a try?
The Obama administration's policies contribute towards the reason the United States is in an era of persistent conflict, and only his loyal but truly blind defenders can claim otherwise. The situation off Somalia is getting worse, not better, because of the actions of US Navy forces. US Navy military actions serve towards no articulated military objective while disrupting the only process that does work - the hostage for ransom exchange program that industry created when Navy's failed to take any meaningful action to curb the problem.
According to the U.S. Navy, there are currently 34 warships, from 15 different nations, assigned to the anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean. Collectively, they weren't enough to save those missionaries on that yacht, and they won't be much use in the future, until someone (read: our Commander-in-Chief) and his national security team decide to get serious about the piracy problem in Somalia.