Will the recruits training for Somalia’s new navy — its first in decades — prove capable against threats such as piracy? Considering that Mogadishu is also beseeching neighboring states to send more troops to assist in its struggle against rebel forces, I wonder.

That said, pirate attacks off Somalia have caught the attention and imagination of more of my readers than many other topics in recent years. When I asked for solutions to the problem some months ago, I never anticipated receiving more than 1,100 responses. Indeed, recommendations are still coming in. The most popular ones fall into the following categories:

• Use deadly force. Forty percent said the only way to handle the pirates is to give them a dose of their own violent medicine. A typical comment was that of Bob Mulrooney of Easton, Pa. He suggested using submarines to torpedo the pirates’ mother ships as they tow speedboats toward targets at sea. Carol P. Warnick of East Ephraim, Utah, bluntly said, “Piracy is war.” She advocated immediate action, “just as our U.S. Navy SEALs did (to save Capt. Richard Phillips from pirates in April). Richard L. Anderson of Sterling, Va., was ready for even more – taking the initiative, using military and economic means to eliminate pirate strongholds.

• Investigate root causes and provide help. This position offers a sharp contrast to the previous one, with about 18 percent embracing it. They said we should strive to understand more about the pirates’ motivations – such as defending their fishing interests against foreign competition – and the plight of Somalia in general. Abdulla Farah, a reader of al-Watan in Oman, blamed the hopelessness of the people, who “are normally God-fearing (and) law-abiding.” He said they need the world community to rise up to its responsibility and “invite the wise” to determine a non-violent solution.

• Arm private vessels. About 15 percent advocated better defenses, from maritime marshals to private security forces to deck guns. Quite a few respondents gleefully pointed to a highly publicized case in May, when an Italian cruise ship’s Israeli security team opened fire on pirates and ended an attack.

• Send in warships. About 10 percent felt optimistic about the presence of naval vessels from several countries in the vicinity of Somalia. This method proved its worth recently, as a Portuguese frigate foiled a pirate attack on a container vessel and captured eight pirates. However, some questioned whether using warships is the best or most efficient use of resources. John W. Dumont Jr. of North Monmouth, Maine, suggested privatizing the effort and using supply/base vessels along Somalia’s coast. Each vessel would have the technology to monitor pirates, as well as several “fast boats” and properly equipped contractors to pre-empt pirates, he said.

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• Dispatch “decoys.” This idea appealed to 10 percent of respondents. W.A. Gough, a resident of Milford, Conn., described it in this way: “Disguise a warship to look like a helpless freighter or yacht, and have it cruise tantalizingly close to the Somali coast.” When the pirates attack, suffer defeat and are rounded up, the glamour will diminish, Gough said.

• Make an example of pirate prisoners. In keeping with the deterrence aspects of some of the other ideas, about three percent urged the immediate hanging of captured pirates.

• Establish “no-sail” zones. About 2 percent thought designating areas where ships cannot travel would help. Janet Guerrero of El Paso, Texas, urged creating such a zone “as far offshore as feasible, with freighters travelling in convoys,” and having it patrolled by naval and air forces. But many supporters of this view also acknowledged the possibility that pirates might simply expand their range, as is already happening.

The remainder of the respondents recommended a wide variety of steps. John Elfmont of Redondo Beach, Calif., provided an elaborate, seven-point plan, including some of the above-mentioned ideas plus the bunching ships into convoys, the adopting of standard policies to resist piracy with violence and the granting of authority to warships to arrest pirates.

Others ranged from the extreme (blockading Somalia) to the humorous (inviting actor Johnny Depp, famous for his depiction of an eccentric, fictitious, cinematic pirate, to serve as a consultant).

At the end of the day, more ideas would be welcome. Failed states do not simply wither and die without consequences for the international community. The most obvious ones in Somalia’s case — regional instability and piracy — will only worsen in the absence of forceful, consistent, collective action.

John C. Bersia, who won a Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing for the Orlando Sentinel in 2000, is the special assistant to the president for global perspectives at the University of Central Florida. E-mail [email protected]


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