Anarchy on the high seas

Somali pirates on Monday vowed to retaliate for the deaths of three colleagues, who were shot dead by U.S. Navy snipers as they held an American merchant captain hostage on a lifeboat off the coast of Somalia.

“Every country will be treated the way it treats us,” said Abdullahi Lami, one of the pirates holding a Greek ship anchored in the pirate den of Gaan, a central Somali town.

“In the future, America will be the one mourning and crying,” he told The Associated Press by telephone. “We will retaliate for the killings of our men.”

Yeah. Perhaps we should deploy coast watchers from Maine to Florida, waiting for the Somali high seas fleet to hie into view.

These goons regularly seize passing ships and hold them captive until multimillion-dollar ransoms are paid, making the Gulf of Aden and the waterways along Somalia’s coast some of the most dangerous shipping lanes on the planet.

Pirates currently hold more than a dozen foreign ships and about 230 foreign sailors with nationalities ranging from Russian to Filipino.

On Tuesday, they seized four more ships in the region and took 60 crew members hostage.

The American rescue followed a similar operation Friday carried out by French navy commandos, who stormed a pirate-held sailboat, the Tanit, in a shootout at sea that killed two pirates and freed four French hostages. The French owner of the vessel was killed in the assault.

Jamac Habeb, a 30-year-old self-proclaimed pirate, told The Associated Press that the three pirates’ deaths were “a painful experience.” Speaking from the pirate hub, Eyl, he added, “This will be a good lesson for us. … From now on, if we capture foreign ships and their respective countries try to attack us, we will kill them,” Habeb said. “Now they became our number one enemy,” he said of U.S. forces.

Alrighty then.

There’s a reason why the Marine Corps Hymn refers to “the shores of Tripoli.” The outfit got its start cleaning out pirate nests on the north coast of Africa, when this fledgling nation discovered other foreign powers (does any of this sound familiar?) preferred paying ransoms and protection money to mounting the force necessary to clean out the problem.

In the end, as anyone who has ever been tempted to pay blackmail soon learns, such “accommodations” only bring further outrages and demands.

Pirates are, by definition, violent thugs operating outside the reach of any organized government. This nation’s armed forces tend to be assigned too many duties in too many parts of the world, these days. But keeping our international commerce free from pirates on the high seas is right there in the basic job description.

U.S. flag vessels and crews sailing such waters should be encouraged to carry arms sufficient to deal with such threats — under letter of marque, if Congress deems that helpful. A few “Q ships” might lure the bad guys into a clear field of fire.

Not resting there, the U.S. Navy should then take this fight directly to the thugs, mirroring the solution adopted by President Thomas Jefferson, Commodore Edward Preble and young Lt. Stephen Decatur in the early 1800s.

The pirates have decided anyone who resists their crimes is their “number one enemy.”

Fine. Perhaps it’s time to send them a task force against which they can fight like men.

Or from which they can scurry like rabbits, as they see fit, leaving their homes and families to face the consequences.

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