In the Washington Post two years ago, a Washington, D.C.-based scholar argued in favor of a solution to the vexing issue of modern-day piracy that was decidedly at odds with the long-standing international practice of capturing and prosecuting pirates: Just kill them.
“The international right of self-defense would also justify an inspection and quarantine regime off the coast of Somalia to seize and destroy all vessels that are found to be engaged in piracy,” wrote Fred C. Ikle, a distinguished scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Cowardice will not defeat terrorism, nor will it stop the Somali pirates. If anything, continuing to meet the pirates’ demands only acts as an incentive for more piracy.”
On Tuesday, the ruling party in Denmark essentially agreed with Ikle, arguing that the Danish navy should be allowed to sink the “mother ships” often employed as at-sea bases for modern-day pirates. The Liberal Party also proposed that Danish naval mandate should allow the boarding and confiscation of pirates’ mother ships, according to the Politiken newspaper, courtesy of BNO News.
Both proposals are being considered by Danish government ministers.
It’s a particularly touchy subject in Denmark, still reeling from the hijacking of seven Danish citizens on February 24. Two other Danish hostages have also been held by pirates since mid-January, BNO News reported.
According to the report, Nils Wang, commanding officer of the Danish Defense Academy, said that a wider strategy is needed for anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean than simply chasing pirates.
Wang proposed that the United Nations sets up a new and efficient coastguard, in which Denmark could contribute. Wang’s proposal calls for foreign ships to pay fishing licenses so that Somali pirates can once again work as fishermen.
The U.S. Navy adheres to the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and customary international law while contributing forces to Combined Task Force 151, a counter-piracy task force that operates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast. Member navies can intervene during pirate attacks in progress, can retake ships with special forces troops after a pirate seizure and can strike pirate bases ashore.
But they can’t just blast suspected pirates out of the water. Ikle, writing just after American mariner Richard Phillips was dramatically rescued in 2009 when Navy snipers on the destroyer Bainbridge shot and killed three pirates in an enclosed lifeboat who were holding him hostage, argued that if pirates show aggression, navies should be free to open fire.
Government lawyers who advise the governments attempting to cope with such pirates, Ikle wrote, “misinterpret the Law of the Sea Treaty and the Geneva Conventions and fail to apply the powerful international laws that exist against piracy. The right of self-defense — a principle of international law — justifies killing pirates as they try to board a ship.”