Reliable Security Information

America's Pirate Problem

February 2011, piracy took a deadly turn when Somalia pirates hijacked a yacht off Somalia and then killed the four people onboard--all of them Americans. This tragic incident is a reminder that the US has more to worry about in the Middle East and North Africa than the political upheavals sweeping the region from Bahrain to Tripoli.


A recent study from The Heritage Foundation concludes that anti-piracy efforts to date have achieved some success, but they have failed to halt the spread of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. "Taking the Fight to the Pirates: Applying Counterterrorist Methods to the Threat of Piracy" concludes that ending the threat from Somali pirates will require shifting from a defensive posture of trying to protect ships passing through the high-risk zones--there are too many ships, too few military vessels, and too many pirates--to an offensive strategy of attacking the pirates at their weak points. The United States and other countries should use every means at their disposal to deny the pirates any safe haven--geographical, financial, and legal.


Particularly noteworthy, the report points to the need for action by Congress and the White House. It recommends that Congress review U.S. piracy law and update it as needed to clarify legal definitions and jurisdicĀ¬tion, establish rules of evidence, and streamline the judicial process. Congress may also want to consider explicitly extending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to cover pirates, specifically availing the U.S. of the "at sea" exception that allows trials by court-martial on U.S. military ships or bases. Such legal proceedings would limit "the logistical and political costs of transĀ¬porting them from the Indian Ocean."


The study also recommends the President "unsign" the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, both to combat piracy effectively and to protect other U.S. national interests by ending any U.S. obligation to avoid violating the object and purpose of the agreement.


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