Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security since being so far removed from the attacks of September 11, 2001. Though many suggestions of the 9/11 Commission have been enacted, there are still many significant holes in our country’s maritime and port security. Many Americans are shocked, and horrified, to learn that approximately 225 hostages are being held off the Somali coast at this very moment. This security threat is far from solved, and in my opinion, the U.S. gave up a long time ago its preeminence in the maritime sector.
Piracy will continue to be a problem as long as Somalia remains a failed state. Africa writ large is a broader security concern, but you cannot address the symptom of piracy without taking on the disease ashore. The policy options all are lacking and reflect a broader strategic threat Africom was created to address. The bottom line: lawlessness on shore leads to lawlessness at sea.
The United States Navy is struggling with responding to the threat due to being spread too thin from imperial overstretch and an unwillingness to tackle this issue for other strategic and cultural reasons. Inviting an international flotilla to assist, as we’re helping coordinate, makes a lot of sense for many reasons but also raises some uncomfortable realities – such as Chinese combatants in the Indian Ocean.
The surprise of the Maersk Alabama was not that it was captured by pirates, but that a U.S. flag ship still exists on international routes. International shipping is essentially stateless — with commercial tankers now built, owned, insured, crewed and flagged in many different places. Each actor is loathe to assume liability, and many of these sailors are still hostage because no one wants to pay to cut them loose.
The UAE’s Dubai Ports World (DPW) fiasco a few years back was also emblematic of this broader crisis; Americans do not control, much less understand, international shipping and why it is vitally important to national interests.
There is the possibility of an alarming criminal nexus between the Middle East, London and the Puntland region in Somalia. The stooges doing the hijacking are just pawns of bigger, shadowy forces. What happens to the millions of ransom payments? These suitcases of cash being dropped from helicopters are not being invested in Mogadishu hedge funds.