Mr. POE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, when the word pirate comes to mind, many envision treasure seeking ruffians with eye patches. Unbeknownst to most of us, pirates still exist: lurking the coast of East Africa, specifically Somalia and Kenya, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Guinea, The Malacca Strait, and the Indian subcontinent. Pirates today, however, can do more damage than forcing a poor fellow to walk the plank.
Regions plagued by poverty and extreme terrorism have raised a whole new breed of manipulative, violent, maritime hijackers who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Modern piracy is not simply a matter of economic loss or threatened safety, but a risk to the entire globe due to the close-knit ties pirates have with terrorists. All eyes of the international community were suddenly turned to the coast of Somalia when pirates hijacked a Russian supertanker full of oil and army tanks.
What did the American government do? Nothing. Nothing that is, until the unimaginable happened. A U.S. cargo ship was openly attacked by pirates, and the captain was held as ransom for several days. Since then, efforts have been taken to defend ships from maritime crime, such as legalization of weapons on board for commercial shipping vessels.
Is this passive defense enough? When analyzing the cost of insurance, freight, rerouting, and ransoms, the price we pay to watch these pirates roam the high seas ranges to as high as $16 billion a year. Yet there are far greater non-monetary costs awaiting us in the future. If a ship is attacked at just the right place, it could result in the closure and seizure of invaluable international waterways.
Though many pirates have different motives than terrorists, terrorist tactics are frequently used in hijackings. Both terrorists and pirates traumatize civilians and prey off of fear. As of now there is no international community specifically designated to prevent piracy like there is for terrorism, simply because the legal jurisdiction of piracy is in question.
What we all should agree on, however, is that maritime piracy is a devastating form of terrorism. The topic of most apprehension is the proven fact that modern pirates fund terrorist groups. Whether taken by force or friendship from the pirates, Al-Qaeda now possesses around 15 cargo vessels. Confiscation of vessels hasn’t been the only recent breach in maritime security. Thanks to unobstructed leadership of Somali pirates, we’ve experienced an increase in maritime trafficking of narcotics, people and illicit goods, and arms proliferation.
The evidence shows that maritime terrorism has recently gained the attention of most terrorist groups. Large and heavily loaded commercial vessels, offshore gas rigs, and maritime hub ports are easy shots for maritime terrorists, who seek mass destruction of human life, infrastructure, and nature. Though piracy off the Somalia coast has recently decreased, it has caught flame and prospered in other regions of Africa, such as the waters of Guinea and Nigeria. Squashing these pirates once and for all is easier said than done.
They do not proudly announce their presence on the sea, but rather use silence and stealth to steal an average of $5,000 to $15,000 per ship. Some of these raids are exceedingly violent, while others are bloodless. In both terrorism and maritime piracy, there must be extensive planning, and those involved must be willing to sacrifice their lives. Our friends in England recently recognized a dire loophole in worldwide attempts to combat terrorism. Since 2010, the international community has poured billions into the hands of pirates as ransom for the release of vessels and crew. These pirates are not necessarily terrorists themselves, yet many have direct connections to major terror groups. We can be sure that piracy has summoned nearby terrorist groups with the scent of money and the bribe of civilian fear.
Maritime piracy is now used as the ever-prosperous bank for terrorists. Great Britain understands this and is in the midst of editing a bill which prohibits all forms of ransom payments to terrorists. Somali pirates appear to give the ransoms from their pirated material to al-Qaeda. There is no doubt that piracy could not only fund, but also be used as a form of terrorism or for political purposes, especially because of the unusual amount of security breaches easily accessible on ports and at sea compared to land. Take for example al-Qaeda’s attack on United States. It only took two men in a tiny boat to kill seventeen U.S. citizens and injure 39 more, just by placing a shape charge against the hull of the USS Cole while it was refueling at a Yemeni port.
We must ensure the future does not hold a pirate-terrorist group merger. This event would spin to a halt all anti-terrorism efforts. Al Shabaab and al-Qaeda are difficult and resilient as it is, but imagine these groups with access to strategic waterways, billions of dollars, high grade ships in their grasp, and American captives at their disposal. Debate on the floor of the House has found, Piracy is ‘‘Booming without any credible deterrence, without the type of deterrence you saw at one point in time from the British navy or from the U.S. fleet. As we speak, there are 27 vessels and 449 hostages being held by Somali pirates’’
Yet nothing substantial is done. Though many ships are now well-armed, piracy continues without hiccup. It’s time the United States takes some action and put these outlaws in the high seas out of business and send them to Davy Jones’ locker. An estimated $160 million was paid as ransoms to pirates in one year alone. Using a private navy is almost as drastic of a cost. So, the question is: what should we do? One of the most considered solutions is that of modern privateering.
Privateers as defined by international law are ‘‘vessels belonging to private owners, and sailing under commission of war empowering the person to whom it is granted to carry on all forms of hostility which are permissible at sea by the usages of war.’’
Privateers will be given the opportunity to disable dangerous non-state enemies, and in the process, create revenue. This is not a hard decision. It’s a win-win. The U.S. military has used a form of privateering in the past certain types of air combat and warfare. In fact, in the 1930’s, the U.S. Navy bought blimps from—and hired—a private company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to build a fleet of airships and blimps. These blimps were previously used for advertising, yet the Navy used these simple civilian mechanisms to help defend the country.
In the past, the problem of piracy was largely wiped out due to privateers. The privateers, though used as a sort of political pawn, were extremely successful and motivated. In a system of capitalism, it’s important to consider all parties, and the relationship in which each benefits another. If privateering and letters of marque were used by the United States government today, the government would gain a significant amount of hegemony, credibility, and sea power.
The privateering ship owners would receive rewards or payments in return for the seized pirate ships, as well as a higher safety and low insurance prices. Maritime piracy is indeed a threat that, if not soon stopped, will lead to increased terrorism and economic disaster. In my Congressional office, we employ interns to help with writing and tasks around the office.
One of our interns, Rachel Jones, researched this issue regarding piracy on the open seas. Her help this summer was valuable and I thank her for all of her work and assistance. I wish Rachel luck in her future endeavors and with the rest of her time at my alma mater—Abilene Christian University.
And that’s just the way it is.