By Chic Hollis – Philosophical Musings
The morning paper reported that there were more than 25 foreign ships and 500 hostages in the hands of Somali pirates. “Last week, pirates received about $10 million for a hijacked South Korean supertanker.” In that rogue nation, piracy is the fastest way to get rich it appears.
During my international business assignments overseas the companies that hired me faced two threats to kidnap employees, a bombing of an employee home where three people died, killings of employees, ambushing of guards, and a contract to kill me. Representatives of the various law enforcement agencies were prompt to respond and helpful in suggesting how to proceed. The two kidnapping threats were stymied, and the plan to kill me was aborted or I wouldn’t be writing about this subject today.
One close friend of mine, the managing director of an American subsidiary, was kidnapped and released unharmed three weeks later after the ransom was paid. The managing director of an Italian subsidiary was the first executive kidnapped in the South American country where I was working at the time. He was killed in the attempt to liberate him. Dead hostages have no value to kidnapers.
In the early 1800’s, the U.S. Marines were successful in winning the Barbary Coast Wars in the Mediterranean Sea putting an end to the piracy in the North Coast of Africa. The U.S. Dept. of the Navy had been formed in 1798 to stop the piracy in that area that was attacking U.S. shipping. A similar approach under the United Nations auspices appears appropriate today to end East African piracy. Unfortunately, the government of Somalia is so ineffective that a treaty to halt the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia is unlikely.
Paying ransom for vessels and hostages is never recommended by government negotiators. However, since human lives are at stake, parent company CEOs are most likely to negotiate. The intentions of the kidnapers and the pirates are to shake down those who have the where-with-all to pay the ransom demanded. Time is on their side when the local police force is intimidated by the pirates and when the leaders of the foreign nations involved cannot mount a rescue effort to liberate the hostages without a great loss of lives.
There are many small precautions that owners of targeted vessels can take. Likewise in countries where kidnappings are used by daring criminals to extort money, those at risk usually have body-guards and security measures in place. Stamping out profitable activities of organized criminals is not easy. Only an all-out effort by private and public security agents can discourage potential kidnapers. To stop Somali piracy a more unified naval defense must be organized by the nations at risk. In addition, the captured pirates must be made to “walk the plank!”
When the “Dirty War” began in Argentina, the insurrectionists first targeted the executives of multinational companies. I was Director of Finance in a large American multinational company that was advised to take precautions to protect at-risk executives and company property by doing everything possible to avoid the approach of the daring evil-doers. The wisdom of the day was to travel to the factory in caravans of autos accompanied by the police or private security agents. Later, when I became Managing Director of that company in Argentina, I traveled in a chauffeur-driven armored sedan followed by security men working for the company in a semi-armored sedan. These men were authorized by the local police to carry sub-machine guns. The usual kidnapped victim during that period was an unaccompanied person who followed the same route to his workplace.
A similar procedure should be followed on the high seas by ships passing by Somalia. They should be traveling in convoys protected by military vessels or have armed troops on board defending their ship from attack and invasion by pirates. Once a hostage is taken, be it a human or a ship, the recovery of the hostage normally results from paying a stiff ransom to the culprits.
To discourage pirates and kidnapers, the best advice for owners of vessels exposed in international waters is to make an attack appear too dangerous and the loss of pirate lives highly probable. Without an active “Coast Guard” of foreign ships patrolling the waters off Somalia and intercepting smaller vessels that aren’t fishing or carrying passengers, a convoy of container ships like the convoys of troop and supply ships used in WWII should be organized and accompanied by navy patrol boats that are armed and ready to defend the convoy from pirate attacks. Of course, such pseudo-military action requires coordination by some recognized authority that hasn’t been identified yet.
Since it is unlikely that a strong central government will take over Somalia, there is no one to negotiate a treaty like the ones that were signed after the two Barbary Coast Wars. Lacking some authority that could limit pirate activity without demanding “tribute” in advance (in lieu of ransom after capturing a ship}, there is a slim possibility that pirating can be stamped out. The African neighbors of Somalia are not interested in conquering that country and bringing peace to that poor and troubled area of the Horn of Africa.
Whether a society is facing insurrectionists, terrorists, pirates, drug lords, or kidnapers, it is essential that the police and the members of law enforcement are not aiding the evil-doers in some way. In a world with so many poorly fed, clothed, housed, and supervised humans, there is a bigger threat than ever that the disgusted, exploited, and ignored activists who can buy arms and materials to make explosive devices will devise a scheme to profit from pirating, kidnapping, and extortion.
Spreading awareness of such latent threats to human life in places where poverty is extreme is a responsibility of government officials and public educators. Citizens should be advised about what they can do to defend their property and their lives. There will always be victims of attacks where the savvy perpetrators elude detection and surveillance.
A word of warning to travelers of the world should be part of the educational process. Take care! I have been robbed in Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and Germany. “Bad things” like mugging happen anywhere today!