The U.S. rejoiced with the news yesterday, April 5th, that Navy Seals rescued hero Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk-Alabama. After five days of fruitless negotiations, the pirates were pointing AK-47s at the American captain and the commander of a nearby U.S. guided missile destroyer saw that Phillips was in “imminent danger” of being killed. The U.S. commander made the split-second decision to order U.S. Navy Seals onboard his ship to shoot to kill–they did, killing the three pirates on the nearby lifeboat and saving the life of Captain Phillips. A fourth pirate surrendered. Having escaped the pirates after Phillips offered himself as a hostage, his crew cheered the news of his safety from aboard their ship now docked in Mombassa, Kenya.
Somali pirates the following day vowed to retaliate for the deaths brought about by three “head shots” by U.S. Navy snipers in the nighttime assault. The U.S. rescue followed one by the French of its citizens, when French navy commandos freed four of their hostages on a captured yacht in a similar shootout; two pirates were killed in this effort, along with the French owner of the sailboat. When viewed with the U.S. operation, these escalations of violence could be an indication of worse scenarios to come .
The question then becomes, “What next?” These outlaws still hold numerous foreign ships and over 225 captive sailors, ranging from the Philippines and Taiwan to Germany and Russia, most of the ships anchored along Somalia’s long coast. Al Qaeda has its supporters and insurgents already in the area, the question being what will it try to do when seeing the so far “easy pickings” by pirates who’d rather live. Somalia’s instability and continuing major shipping attacks has made these vital waterways into one of the most dangerous in the world with huge tankers, container ships, and freighters packed when traveling into the Red Sea and ultimately the Suez Canal. It is hoped that a major ocean disaster does not occur before the U.S. and civilized world is forced to take some action against the Somali land bases and these very real threats to lives and the global economy.
Dennis Powers, a former business law attorney and professor of business, is the author of TAKING THE SEA: Perilous Waters, Sunken Ships, and the True Story of the Legendary Wrecker Captains (AMACOM 2009). He is also the author of The Raging Sea, Treasure Ship, and Sentinel of the Seas. To learn about Powers’ martime books go to www.dennispowersbooks.com.