The US is considering new military and diplomatic strategies in the aftermath of a high-seas hostage drama, including adding Navy gunships along the Somali coastline and launching a campaign to disable pirate “mother ships.”
The rescue of a US hostage and the killing of three Somali pirates by Navy SEAL snipers also increases pressure on US and international leaders to use authority the UN granted last December to hunt pirates on land, where they plan and nurture attacks.
One day after his direct order allowing military force ended in success, US President Barack Obama committed the US to “halt the rise of piracy” without saying exactly how his administration and allies would do so. While stopping short of a pledge to eradicate piracy, the new US president added the lawlessness off the coast of Africa to a lengthy must-fix list that already includes two wars and a struggling economy.
“We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise, and we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes,” Obama said.
US officials privately outlined several options on Monday, even as the Pentagon cautioned that the solution to the piracy scourge won’t come at the point of a gun.
The high-stakes discussions come on the heels of a piracy drama that ended on Sunday with the freeing of a US cargo ship captain. Somali pirates said they would retaliate for the killing of three of the pirates holding captain Richard Phillips, and one pirate said that Americans were now enemy No. 1.
Military officials said the precision of Sunday’s rescue may be a testament to the skill of US forces, but it should not become a rationale for a major expansion of the Pentagon’s role in what is fundamentally a criminal problem.
One official, reflecting the administration’s view, said bluntly that piracy is a crime, not an act of war or even terrorism. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made, including about whether to expand or change the military’s current role in fighting piracy.
Meanwhile, pirates hijacked a vessel off the coast of Somalia yesterday in their latest attack on commercial shipping, a maritime group said.
Somali pirates took 22 crewmen from the Philippines hostage when they hijacked a Greek cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden yesterday, Greece’s merchant marine ministry said.
The MV Irene, a Greek-operated vessel flagged in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, belonged to Chian Spirit Maritime Enterprises Ltd, based in the Greek port of Piraeus, it said.