menu

The Quest Tragedy and a Strategic Response to Piracy

Here’s a piece I published on the Defense Media Network about increasingly violent events in East Africa.

With the sad news of the murder of four Americans by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, the United States and the international community once again have to realize that ignoring the situation in East Africa is not a viable or productive option. For decades, the lawlessness of the area has allowed piracy to become the de facto career choice for young men desperate for money and to do the unthinkable to those who unfortunately come within range of their coastal waters. Commercial shipping interests and private sailing vessels have been equal targets of opportunity and despite the successful U.S. Navy operations in 2009 that rescued the skipper and crew of the Maersk Alabama and increased U.S. presence in these dangerous waters this situation continues to go on without interruption.

Now that four American civilians have been murdered, two of whom were doing Christian missionary work, there will be new calls for dealing with the situation in Somalia and East Africa. I’m certainly in the column of people that wants to give full license and opportunity to Navy SEAL teams and other elite U.S. military units to do what they need to do take out these unwanted elements, but there also has to be an element of common sense applied to our actions.

The murdered crew of four from the sailing yacht Quest were warned by multiple parties to stay clear of the East Africa area given the almost constant acts of piracy that occur there. For whatever their reason, be it spiritual given the missionary work they were doing, or practical given it may have been a shorter route to their intended destination(s) they chose to go into the ultimate of danger zones. They unfortunately paid the ultimate price for that choice. All of us can shake our heads at that decision, but in the end it was theirs and theirs alone.

Read the rest of Rich Cooper’s piece on the Defense Media Network.

Rich Cooper blog primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Tony Stead

    Rich

    Your work offers a very good reminder to all of the need to address the increasing incidents of piracy and its significant impact. I agree that there is a need for a strong unilateral response, but caution against retribution or heavy handed “bombing”.

    The US’s response to 9/11 with the War on Terror campaign reminds us that knee-jerk responses may not always offer the best solution.

    There are some very effective counter-piracy measures being considered including ship perimiter protection floats/chains that prevent smaller craft getting close to larger vessles, however, these still leave vessles vulnerable to missle or firearm attack. Coastal sailing restrictions are also being reviewed, where policing waters within view of land would be less challenging than policing vast areas of open water.

    This leads to the question of prosecution of pirates and in which nations courts. Is piracy considered entrepreneurilism? Is it a crime in their homeland? How do Somali national courts deal with such events? If we place pirates in UK/US prisions, then respective tax payers ultimately foot the bill.

    The regrettable deaths of 4 US civilians, and the case of 2 UK hostages highlight challenges faced by Naval forces. In the case of US, pirates say US Forces killed the citizens. In the UK hostage incident, the event happened off the bow of a navy vessle.

    Any national force must comply with the rules of engagement, i.e. the Geneva convention.

    Should a national defence force risk the lives of servicemen and valuable taxpayer’s money defending a commercial asset or the lives of those willing to place their head inside a lion’s mouth?

    In summary, piracy happens because there is opportunity for gain. The soloution is to remove such opportunity.

    Thank you for your article.

    Regards
    Tony