Drone Attacks Could Blow Pirates Out of Water

Friday, 17 Apr 2009 10:44 AM

By Ralph Hostetter

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America's satellite capability to spot areas down to the size of a pirate’s chest could provide the opportunity to belay the pirates bedeviling ships off the coast of Somalia.

Piracy on the seas surrounding Somalia has been a threat to international shipping since the beginning of Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s.

But it has escalated of late, including the incident in the Gulf of Arden in early April in which Maersk Alabama was captured, along with its crew. Capt. Richard Phillips offered himself as hostage on the condition that his crew were allowed to go free.

Four of the pirates took Phillips and fled in one of the ship's covered lifeboats. One pirate, who had been injured, was persuaded to board the Bainbridge for medical attention.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy parachuted three Navy SEALs into the sea close to the USS Bainbridge, where they were taken aboard. Three SEALS snipers, equipped with night goggles, took their position on the destroyer's stern.

When they observed, through a window of the covered lifeboat, one of the pirates pointing a gun at the captain's back while the two others had their heads and shoulders exposed, the three sharpshooters simultaneously fired single shots into each pirate's head.

The SEALs then rescued Phillips.

The Maersk Alabama had joined an increasing number of piracy victims. During the past year, Somalian pirates have attacked 111 ships, 42 of which were hijacked. Pirates still are holding 17 of the attacked ships and more than 300 hostages from a dozen or more countries.

Somalia’s state of anarchy allows the piracy to continue unfettered. The country’s geography, with its thousand-plus mile coastline on both sides of the Gulf of Aden with very little population, lends itself to acts of piracy. About 20,000 ships a year pass through on voyages to and from the Suez Canal.

Holding ships and their crews for ransom has proved very profitable. Kenya's foreign minister said Somalian pirates received more than $150 million in the 12 months before November 2008, according to Wikipedia.

Most of the Somalian pirates range in age from 20 to 35 and are principally from an area on the northeastern Horn of Africa known as Puntland. They are organized into at least five pirate gangs totaling about 1,000 men, according to the East African Seafarers Association.

They should be no match for the United states. The Bainbridge’s success in rescuing Phillips provides a good argument for the United States to go one step further to police the Gulf of Aden, which covers an area the size of Texas. The extended coastline of Aden, covering more than 1,000 miles, offers many opportunities for the pirates to operate from hidden lairs.

America's pinpoint satellite capability would allow tracking the pirates to those hiding places. Then unmanned aircraft, or drones, could surgically remove the lairs around the Gulf of Aden and restore security to international shipping in that area.

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