Editor's Note: We don't typically report on U.S. military actions undertaken around the globe, but there is a clear law enforcement element to the piracy that has been intensifying off the coast of Somalia that warrants some attention. PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou notes that during the initial Pentagon briefing that followed the successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips on Easter Sunday, a reporter asked whether the pirate problem should be handled by the military or by law enforcement. Others have asked whether the captured 16-year-old Somali pirate should be brought back to the United States and tried in federal court or turned over to Kenyan or Somali authorities for prosecution. What do you think? Sound off with your comments below.
Pirate Boarding Party, Port Side! Man the Hoses?
From the moment the pirates were spotted off the port side of the Maersk Alabama, the merchant vessel’s crew went above and beyond what other crews have done to protect their ship and its humanitarian cargo. Disarmed by maritime law but facing bad guys carrying AK-47s, the crew defended their vessel by using fire hoses. They ultimately could not prevent the pirates’ boarding, but Maersk Alabama’s crew stubbornly fought back and re-took the ship.
After locking themselves down, they shut the ship’s power down and steered the rudder of the Maersk Alabama, causing the pirate’s ship to capsize. They were even able to capture a pirate and use him as a bargaining tool.
To save his crew, Captain Richard Phillips volunteered himself to become the lone hostage of four armed pirates; he was soon taken from the ship to an enclosed life boat.
The Heroes: Awe-inspiring U.S. Navy SEALs
The crisis went on for several days. The USS Bainbridge was dispatched to the area of operations. Captain Phillips attempted an escape but was retrieved from the water. This brave man was worthy of rescue by the best and the bravest. On Sunday, Phillips’ death appeared to be imminent when one of the pirates held his AK-47 to the Captain’s back.
Three of America’s best and bravest were on hand to answer the threat. Most certainly using state-of-the-art optics, finely tooled shooting instruments, and skills honed by years of training and experience, three Navy SEAL snipers probably counted down, “three, two, one…”
Sun Tzu might say that the SEALs “brought to the pirates a noise that they did not hear.”
Three shots were fired by three Navy SEAL snipers. The international standoff was over.
The skill and technical excellence of the Navy SEALs in the flawless execution of their tactical plan has left reporters and the general public in awe. Since the Easter Sunday rescue, praise has been universal for the USS Bainbridge, its crew, and the SEAL team involved in the action.
Legal Questions Raised
During the initial Pentagon briefing on the rescue, a question was raised by one of the reporters: should the current pirate problem be handled by the military or law enforcement? Since the Navy and Marines combined to defeat Tripoli in a war (fought from 1801-1805) to end piracy, the military has historically been responsible with dealing with piracy on the high seas.
In the wake of the recent incident off the coast of Somalia some questions have been raised about how and where the captured pirate will be brought to justice. The pirate could be brought back to the United States and tried in federal court. He could be turned over to either Kenyan or Somali authorities for prosecution. That is yet to be determined.
What is certain is this 16-year-old pirate’s punishment will be kinder and gentler than Captain Kidd’s fate three centuries ago. The famous English pirate was sentenced to death and hanged. His body was caged and left hanging from a gibbet for 20 years in a harbor as a warning for anyone who might consider piracy.
Now, to answer the question asked by a journalist at that first press briefing, “Are pirates a law enforcement or military problem?”
In my opinion, the correct answer is, “As far as these three pirates are concerned they were a military problem, but thanks to three U.S. Navy SEALs who fired three shots for freedom, problem solved!”