MOMBASA, Kenya -- A day after the U.S. military killed three pirates and rescued an American sea captain, Somali pirates threatened to retaliate by killing captured U.S. seamen, and the Pentagon said there's little it can do to stop future attacks.
Crewmembers of the freighter Maersk Alabama, in their first formal remarks to reporters, gathered at the dockside in Mombasa Monday and called on President Barack Obama to take a lead role in fighting piracy. The president called for an international effort, but he offered no specifics on how to address the problem.
"We would like to implore President Obama to use all his resources to increase the commitment to ending this Somali pirate scourge," said Shane Murphy, 33, the ship's first mate. "It's time for us to step in and put an end to this crisis. This crew was lucky to be out of it with every one of us alive. We're not going to be that lucky again." [...]
Navy officials said that while the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips has put a national spotlight on the issue, piracy is a long-standing problem. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution calls on Congress to "define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas." In the run-up to the Barbary Wars in the early 19th century, the U.S. negotiated with pirates, which led directly to the wars.
White House aides spoke Monday of an interagency group to continue looking at the issue of pirates and of a desire for international cooperation, but they declined to say how aggressively the administration is seeking to expand its policy, what military and non-military options it's considering, and whether the president considers the problem a military or a legal one.
But while the President dithers about whose problem piracy is and which organization he can blame for not solving it (aside from the Bush Administration, which can, according to the Geneva Convention, be blamed for piracy, global warming, and the continuing political career of Hillary Clinton), Texas Congressman Ron Paul has a heck of an interesting idea:
A little-known congressional power could help the federal government keep the Somali pirates in check — and possibly do it for a discount price.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.
Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.
The letters also require would-be thrill seekers to post a bond promising to abide by international rules of war.
In a YouTube video earlier this week, Paul suggested lawmakers consider issuing letters, which could relieve American naval ships from being the nation’s primary pirate responders — a free-market solution to make the high seas safer for cargo ships.
“I think if every potential pirate knew this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions,” Paul said.
Theoretically, hiring bounty hunters would also be a cheaper option.
I love it! Let's send bounty hunters after the pirates. Then, when the mess is all cleaned up, let's make a movie out of it. Written by anybody except George Lucas, who is probably at the stage of his career where a subplot involving singing fish and an oddly hairy clan of mermaids would be written into an otherwise engaging script.
Piracy is a serious problem, of course. And it needs a serious solution. But somehow, knowing that the Commander-in-Chief is still trying to decide if the problem is a legal or a military one isn't all that reassuring--especially to the crew of the Maersk Alabama, who knows that this time, luck was on their side. This time.