As the hostage situation unfolded last week, viewers sat glued to cable news networks in total disbelief as pirates — previously known to them only from Disney movies and legends — attacked the Maersk Alabama. Four Somali pirates took ship captain Richard Phillips hostage and held him, their boat surrounded by the U.S. Navy.
Luckily, the Navy was able to kill three pirates, take the fourth into custody and, most importantly, rescue Phillips.
Piracy will no doubt continue off the Horn of Africa, whose waters are the shipping route for 30 percent of the world’s oil trade and 12 percent of worldwide maritime trade. While European countries, including Ukraine, have negotiated with pirates and several shipping companies have simply paid ransoms, the United States does not have those options. The United States cannot have a reputation of negotiating with terrorists, and pirates are nothing less than poorly organized terrorists. Though our extremely well-trained Navy pulled off a flawless rescue of Phillips, it will not always be able to rescue hostages in such dangerous conditions. The United States needs to establish a new pirate strategy quickly.
Unfortunately, pirates have an advantage. According to the BBC, Somali pirates can afford to be patient, and countries hoping to keep piracy in check must patrol more than a million square miles of ocean — a huge area that is virtually impossible to effectively patrol even with the world’s largest Navy and the help of the European Union.
Somalia has had a weak central government since 1991 and has little control over piracy in the region, according to the CIA’s World Fact Book.
How in the world can the U.S. government combat a gang of thieves from a country that has little interest in prosecuting them in an area that spans a million square miles? The United States has limited options in combating pirate attacks.
First, it can join with the EU in its effort to fight piracy. In November, the EU launched a mission, known as Operation Atalanta, to combat piracy around the Horn of Africa, according to the European Commission’s Web site. The EU plans to escort ships through the dangerous waterway and establish rules of engagement.
It is clear this will take a worldwide response. The Commission reports the EU currently has four warships in the area, but those are little help given the vast area. The U.S. could concentrate naval forces in the area to better control shipping security. Diplomacy with Kenya could be critical, as the country’s economic dependence on agricultural exports gives it a vested interest in eliminating piracy. Kenya has previously worked with the United States in combating terrorism and this situation should be no different. The U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense should explore all diplomatic possibilities with U.S. allies and neighbors of the unstable Somali government.
Finally, the United States needs reduce its dependence on foreign oil. President Barack Obama needs to live up to his campaign promises of investing in alternative fuels and hybrid vehicles, and implementing stricter fuel economy standards. In addition, the United States needs to further explore environmentally friendly ways to drill offshore. The majority of our foreign relations problems stem from our dependence on oil. Oil took us to Iraq, and now it has us fighting pirates.
This isn’t a sure solution, but it is better than negotiating with pirates. Negotiating makes us look weak in the eyes of terrorists, and allowing that to happen will only leave America susceptible to more attacks.
Damara Rodriguez is a senior majoring in mass communications.