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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crew of 20 Americans Retake U.S. Cargo Ship Hijacked By Pirates Off Somalian Coast

Photo by an employee of the U.S. Navy

CNN Reports:

A U.S. warship arrived before dawn Thursday near a 28-foot lifeboat holding four pirates and the kidnapped captain of a U.S.-flagged cargo ship, officials said.

Also nearby was the Maersk Alabama -- which had been seized early Wednesday off the Horn of Africa. All 20 of its remaining crew members were in good physical shape, said Ken Quinn, second officer of the ship, in a satellite call placed by CNN.


Quinn said the pirates were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, while the freighter's crew carried no weapons. The crew -- apparently minus the captain -- locked themselves in the compartment that contains the ship's steering gear, where they remained for about 12 hours with their captive, whom Quinn said they had tied up. The three other pirates "got frustrated because they couldn't find us," he said.

I will keep you updated as this situation develops.

Some important lessons we can learn from this are:

1. The U.S. Department of Defense needs to re-tailor its competencies to make more sense in a 21st century world. In my essay entitled "A Republic, Not an Empire: A Radical Re-envisioning of American Military Policy," I argued that our Department of Defense maintains a large standing army that is still focused on fighting conventional, 20th century wars against other nation states, and that the threat of such a war today is very small. Instead, the safety of Americans is most threatened by terrorism and acts of piracy on the high seas. We should streamline and retool our Department of Defense to act as a super efficient counter-terrorism force along with a Navy that effectively patrols the sea lanes to keep international commerce safe for Americans. Our Navy should actively hunt and strike known pirates in potentially dangerous waters.

2. The distances at sea are vast and the U.S. Navy cannot be in all places at all times. For that reason, it is important that commercial ships are able and permitted to arm themselves. A well armed crew of 20 Americans should be able to intimidate and hopefully prevent attack by a handful of a half-dozen pirates on a rundown dhow. Unfortunately, in this case, the Americans were unarmed and the pirates had AK-47s. This is another reason not to reinstate the assault weapons ban. Attorney General Eric Holder may think Americans have no legitimate use for these weapons, but it should be apparent that on the high seas, it makes perfect sense for Americans to carry high-powered assault weapons for their defense. Statistics in America show that less restrictive gun laws correspond to fewer violent crimes in their respective states and localities. Criminals are less likely to attack someone who may be well armed. For the same reason, just letting pirates know that most American civilian vessels are heavily armed would predictably have the same effect.

3. Last of all, notice that these U.S. cargo vessels were carrying food aid to East Africa. This is an eloquent picture of why foreign aid is ineffective. It often does not help its intended beneficiaries. There are a dozen reasons that people offer for why developed nations are affluent and why third world countries are poor. Some take the essentially racist approach and believe it is a result of genetics or culture. They ignore the prosperity of populations as genetically and culturally diverse as the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Japan. Others such as Pulitzer Prize Winner Jared Diamond, seem to think it has something to do with the axial tilt of the continents and the availability of certain kinds of livestock. I submit that the affluent societies have been those that are civil societies- peaceful, stable countries with strong governments, well-enforced private property systems, low levels of corruption, and low levels of government intervention in markets. It is the lack of these things that make a country poor, and it is because of their lack that foreign aid is essentially wasted. It pours wealthy nations' resources down a drain of corruption, war, government waste, crime, and even piracy. The real solution to these countries' problems is to help them develop into strong, thriving, civil societies with fewer threats from endless wars, corrupt politicians, and rogue pirates.


  1. #1 - No. It should be "traverse at your own risk." Why give the State reins to loot in the name of hunting down looters?

    #2 - Yes. Arm thyself. This actually cancels out #1.

    #3 - Yes. The immorality (and unconstitutionality) of foreign aid is irrefutable.

  2. Dan,

    Thanks for the feedback. To clarify- are you asserting that funding a military is looting (as a corollary to something like "taxes are coercive")?

    Are you an anarcho-capitalist? If so, therein will lie our disagreement, but I am glad that we share the liberty premise.

  3. Hi, W.E. Thanks for having me. Yes, on both counts. Besides, the direct cost (monetary) of rescuing the the hostages probably exceeds the ransom — not to mention the potential cost of lives lost immediately, and total cost through protracted conflict. In the very least, the Constitution should be upheld; which would mean no foreign aid to begin with, as you point out. Even the very-constitutional "marque and reprisal" would be rendered unnecessary by the mere threat of an armed crew, much less the ultimate cost to the pirates. I also look to the lessons of Wilson's and FDR's treachery against Germany when I say sail at your own risk. (Of course, regardless, the State will make sure the proprietor is dependent upon the State for his "protection.") Though I wouldn't yet go so far as to say BHO is intentionally provoking wider conflict.

  4. Well let me ask you this. Granting that we share different premises about the legitimacy of having a military at all, couldn't you still advocate the policies I set forth in item 1 above as moving in your direction? Or to put it differently, while you may think no military at all is best, would you agree that a much smaller (and more effective) military is better than a much bigger and less effective one?

  5. I disagree with this:

    "[A] Navy that effectively patrols the sea lanes to keep international commerce safe for Americans. Our Navy should actively hunt and strike known pirates in potentially dangerous waters."

    But I am with you on the "much smaller" and "more effective" part, e.g., along the lines of what is called for in the Constitution.

  6. Well Dan, I may disagree with your policy preference too, but I would certainly take it over the status quo. I did happen to stumble upon a website years ago belonging to an organization that escorts ships in the Indian and Pacific oceans for a fee. I thought that'd be a pretty cool job. Sometime on this blog I'll be tackling the subject of anarcho-capitalism and sharing my thoughts. I don't know if that'll come sooner or later, but I am excited about doing it.