"Cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder." Try telling that to Richard Phillips. And the sixty hostages that Somalian pirates have taken since the Navy Seals' daring rescue over the weekend. To the contrary: It's business as usual in the Gulf of Aden. The pirates say they are fighting illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters but have come to operate hundreds of miles from home. Meanwhile, U.S. officials are considering whether to bring the fourth pirate involved in the Alabama attack to the United States or turn him over to Kenya for prosecution, and President Obama promised that Washington was newly committed to halting "the rise of piracy," though he didn't say how.
Maritime experts say that there is very little we can do to stem the tide of pirate attacks. This is because the Somalian pirates are simply a reflection of the status quo in that country. Ruled by heavily armed rival clans, choked by famine, Somalia is like one big drive-by shooting. When we tried to settle things down long enough to get people fed back in 1992, we lost two helicopters and eighteen soldiers. Those events inspired a book and a movie, but little hope.
Seventeen years later, things aren't any better, and maybe a little worse. The addition of terrorists such as al-Qaida make an already volatile situation even more toxic. Graeme Gibbon-Brooks, managing director of Dryad Maritime Intelligence Service in Britain describes the challenge: "You have to be able to tell the difference between good guys and bad guys, and they all look very similar." The whole thing would be so much easier to deal with if they wore eye patches, or had hooks for hands. Or looked like Johnny Depp.