High Seas Whack-A-Mole
By RADM Terry McKnight, USN (Ret) and Michael Hirsh
Navel Institute Press, $29.95, 232 pages
Rear Admiral Terry Mc Knight USN (ret), comments that it’s the retired part that makes it possible to be candid, except for national security considerations, about the hunt for pirates and what makes it a monumental international goat rope.
Piracy is almost a perfect storm of entrepreneurship, opportunism and, of course greed. This is a powerful combination to combat with bureaucracy, lawyers and politicians. Even with the help of the U.S. Navy, it’s a nearly impossible task. Piracy turns out to be a viable business model which, in one year, returned 160,000,000 dollars to the pirates, their investors (yes, that’s right), and web of facilitators. At the same time, insurance companies collected five times that in increased premiums. Money for everyone.
Against this criminal enterprise is Combined Task Force 151 commanded by the author. An international naval force comprised of some twenty four nations at various times with the U.S., Great Britain and Denmark actually able to apprehend criminals. It seems strange to have an Aegis class missile cruiser arrayed against teenage druggies in motor boats, armed with AK-47s, but the action occurred over months and millions of square miles of ocean so the size and endurance was needed.
Due to the need to avoid deaths, on both sides, guns are seldom used except for intimidation. So the best defense is sometimes as low tech as lookouts, go faster, barbed wire around the ship, or as high tech as a system to blast the bad guys with sound loud enough to hurt. But, as long as the money lasts, there will be pirated ships and hostages at risk.
The authors have produced an entertaining yet businesslike book that exposes the good, the bad and yes, the ugly story of the international effort against piracy on the high seas. It’s not quite Terry and the Pirates, but it’s close enough.
Reviewed by Norman West