Amanda Ripley

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How Not to Deal with Pirates (and Terrorists and Gangs of All Names)

6th Feb 2009 posted in Resilience

Remember when the first reports came out about how those silly Somali pirates had made a big mistake by hijacking a Ukrainian arms freighter four months ago? Remember how war ships from around the world converged on the scene, and everyone tittered about the bumbling pirates and their dark fate?

Those pirates just made off with $3.2 million in ransom, dropped by parachute onto the ship. They left the ship and are free, at least for now. So free that one of the pirates had time to complain to the New York Times about how long the whole process had taken—before he moved on to his next hunt.

My first reaction is: Dudes!

Why would any company or country pay this ransom, knowing it will be publicized around the world, guaranteeing a festival of hijackings in the days and months to come? Why would the guided missile destroyer USS Howard, which was floating nearby and watching over the pirates this many months, surrender? This is a ship with surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, anti-submarine rockets, torpedoes, and a five-inch rapid-fire deck gun. And they just sat tight.

Now I know there was a 21-member crew onboard the hijacked ship. Lives were at stake. So were 33 tanks, 150 grenade launchers and 6 antiaircraft guns—possibly destined for Sudan, allegedly the property of Kenya. Hard to say which mattered more to the countries fretting over the freighter, though I think you can guess.

But this is a major capitulation in a very nasty, complex war. Check out this Al Jazeera clip about why Somali pirates consider themselves members heroes, environmentalists and patriots: