Off Somalia's vast Indian Ocean coastline, entrepreneurial Somalis are finding gainful employment. The Horn of Africa is the setting for a latter day "Barbary Pirates" sequel where ragtag groups equipped with GPS devices, rocket propelled grenades and assorted machine guns roam at will, boarding supertankers and cargo vessels at a rate of around two per week. Some 15 dormant ships are currently now berthed in lawless yet booming Somali ports.
Perhaps oil-thirsty America can bid for some of those oil-filled supertankers on the cheap and quietly fill our strategic oil reserve. Call it pragmatic politics if you will – it helps balance the Saudis' and Iranians' penchant for financing Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim missionary and revival movement group Tablighi Jamaat on the other hand.
Seriously. Media reports about this recent cornucopia of piracy outline the infuriating helplessness of international authorities. In 1805, the U.S. Marines decimated the many pirate havens "along the shores of Tripoli," as that famous song goes – we could certainly take direction from that 200 year old success.
This is not a scenario that lends itself to negotiation – let's keep that delicacy for our irascible friends – Putin, Ahmadinejad and Chavez, et al. Rather, a NATO Navy assemblage supplemented by our Asian counterparts could initiate some effective 19th century policies. All suspicious boats in the Horn of Africa area should be boarded and searched for weapons. Those offering resistance are to be ignominiously sent to Davy Jones' locker. Other boats found with weapons preferably destroyed, with pirates summarily turned over to the Somali authorities for long term imprisonment. To ensure compliance, the shipping and insurance industry relevant to that area could be taxed modestly to cover a fee of say, $100 per month per prisoner. This sorely needed foreign exchange will ensure the Somali authorities' willing compliance in keeping the pirates under lock and key as a permanent disincentive to budding pirates.
It should not be long before these remaining entrepreneurs of the sea find alternative employment.
Now back to the cheap oil tankers?
Leslie J. Sacks is an art dealer and gallerist in Los Angeles. Before that, he founded and operated Les Art International in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was active in opposing apartheid and in supporting the Johannesburg Jewish community.