View Full Version : An intersting way to deal with piracy

04-15-2009, 6:11 AM
Ron Paul is trying to revive a mostly-forgotten law for dealing with Somali (and other) pirates...


In case the link's busted:

A little-known congressional power could help the federal government keep the Somali pirates in check — and possibly do it for a discount price.

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe.

Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.

The letters also require would-be thrill seekers to post a bond promising to abide by international rules of war.

In a YouTube video earlier this week, Paul suggested lawmakers consider issuing letters, which could relieve American naval ships from being the nation’s primary pirate responders — a free-market solution to make the high seas safer for cargo ships.

“I think if every potential pirate knew this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions,” Paul said.

Theoretically, hiring bounty hunters would also be a cheaper option.

National security experts estimate that this week’s ship captain rescue by Navy SEALs cost tens of millions, although a Navy spokesman says the military cannot confirm the exact cost of the mission.

Instead, privateers would be incentivized to patrol the ocean looking for key targets — and money would be paid only to the contractor who completed the job.

“If we have 100 American wanna-be Rambos patrolling the seas, it’s probably a good way of getting the job done,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and security expert Eli Lehrer. “Right now we have a Navy designed mostly to fight other navies. The weapons we have are all excellent, but they may not be the best ones to fight these kinds of pirates. The only cost under letters of marque would be some sort of bounty for the pirates.”

According to Senate historians, Congress hasn’t issued a letter of marquee since the War of 1812, but the Confederate States of America issued them during the Civil War to deliver supplies behind enemy lines. There are also some indications that a letter was granted to a flying band of armed civilians during World War II to operate the Resolute, a Goodyear Blimp used to patrol the ocean for enemy submarines, but the issuance isn’t apparent in the Congressional Record.

If Congress were to revisit the antiquated process, a serious makeover would be required.

In the past, privateers were allowed to keep the ship and treasure they captured in an enemy encounter.

“That isn’t a viable way of funding in today’s world,” said Lehrer. “These pirates don’t really have treasure chests, and their money is tied up in Swiss Bank accounts. Congress would probably have to attach sizable bounties to people.”

Bounties are not a new idea — there is still a $25 million bounty on Osama bin Laden, and millions have been awarded by the government for other enemy captures.

The U.S. State Department earlier this month put a $5 million bounty on the head of the top Pakistani Taliban leader, and even local police departments use rewards to solve cold cases.

University of Oregon economics professor Bill Harbaugh argues the setup could potentially work better than some of the United States’ relationships with modern-day security contractors.

“Obviously, this is somewhat like the contract the government had with Blackwater, except we forgot the bond part of the contract, he said. “If Congress had used this contract from 1776, it would have been more sophisticated than the one they issued with Blackwater.”

Harbaugh’s fifth great-grandfather, Silas Talbot, worked as an early privateer for the United States in 1780 after serving in the Revolutionary War. His letter of marque shows he set out with 12 carriage guns and a crew of 50 men to attack and seize cargo ships coming from Great Britain on the high seas.

Could it really work again?

“It may work in the sense that if you give people incentives to fight piracy, you’ll see more action taken against it,” said Andrew Grotto, a senior national security analyst with the Center for American Progress. “The ocean is huge and, practically speaking, there’s no way the Navy can prevent piracy; it’s too big. But just given the experience in Iraq with private contractors, that effort showcases the difficulties dealing with folks who aren’t answerable to anyone but shareholders.”

But Paul has already thought through a number of these updates.

Days after Sept. 11, Paul introduced legislation allowing President Bush to allow private citizens to go after Osama bin Laden and other identified terrorists and put a bounty price on the heads of targets responsible for the New York attacks. Contractors would also be required to post a play-by-the-rules bond and turn over any terrorists — and their seized property —to U.S. authorities.

“The Constitution gives Congress the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal when a precise declaration of war is impossible due to the vagueness of the enemy,” Paul wrote in a press release. “Once letters of marque and reprisal are issued, every terrorist is essentially a marked man.”

But national security experts and legal analysts warn that applying a colonial-era policy to a modern-day problem could be wrought with legal pitfalls that the Founding Fathers never encountered.

If bounty hunters chase pirates into territorial coastal waters or on to the shore of another country, the problem would fall under the jurisdiction of that country. And any plundering activity that takes place in coastal waters is no longer considered piracy, according to College of William and Mary national security law professor Linda Malone.

Not to mention that there’s also no clear indication where and how the captured pirates should be prosecuted.

“You have to find a stable court system nearby to have them tried for these offenses, but that can be quite complicated,” Malone said. “The fact that the pirates are from Somalia doesn’t make them state actors. They are doing this for private gain.”

And how to determine exactly who is a pirate — and what constitutes pirate activity — could get fuzzy.

“What happens when a ship flying under Congress accidentally takes out an aid ship bound for Somalia?” Grotto said. “At what time does an act seem pirate-like enough to cross the line? Do we really want these snap judgments being made on the fly in waters thousands of miles away from Washington? This is not Johnny Depp we’re dealing with.”

Of course, we have to ensure we don't violate one's right to piracy ;) For every good cause, there's a liberal scumbag to trash it.

04-15-2009, 6:21 AM
Good idea, wish i had a ship and lots of armor... :chris:

they would definitely have to add a reward though, as it doesnt seem as though most pirates ships aren't worth very much. Wait, there was that one rusted ak they found.


04-15-2009, 6:43 AM
Hey, do I see class 3 weapons in California's future? Shouldn't get denied with a great reason now....LOL

04-15-2009, 9:11 AM
Calguns sponsored boat? :thumbsup:

04-15-2009, 9:37 AM
Good idea, wish i had a ship and lots of armor... :chris:

Wait, there was that one rusted ak they found.

Lesson Learned: Salt Water is H#ll on guns.

(but I bet that AK still works!) :43:


04-15-2009, 9:51 AM

04-15-2009, 10:22 AM
Letters or Marque were not only common during the revolution but was one of the most common ways for fighting piracy and the Spanish in the Caribbean when England wasn't "formally" at war. Unfortunately many captains with a Letter of Marque eventually went "rogue" and became pirates. I suspect that the arms advantage the Navy has today makes that much less likely.

04-15-2009, 11:26 AM
I've got dibs on the name "Redwater" for my new maritime defense contractor business... :chris:

04-15-2009, 11:35 AM
Since these big companies have been paying the huge ransoms in the past, I couldn't figure out why they didn't hire armed escorts for their ships. Bet it would be cheaper to have a couple of fast ships armed to the teeth than paying ransoms all the time, losing cargo, crews freaked out, etc., etc..

Another thing, if Calguns is going to have a boat, why not air support??? Lol...

04-15-2009, 11:38 AM
See, we should have had Ron Paul rather than John McCain.

Then we could have had Paul/Palin in power, instead of what we got.


04-15-2009, 11:54 AM
How about instead of having people patrol the waters, have an armed crew on board these ships that get attacked? Or even better the crewmen of these ships train to defend their own ships? I was pondering this the other day. This could be a very lucrative business.

04-15-2009, 12:18 PM
I've got dibs on the name "Redwater" for my new maritime defense contractor business... :chris:

Think I'll just steal a fishing boards name - Bloodydecks!

04-15-2009, 2:17 PM
See, we should have had Ron Paul rather than John McCain.

Then we could have had Paul/Palin in power, instead of what we got.


the probability that Paul would have chosen Palin as a running mate is near zero.

04-16-2009, 10:54 AM
Yeah.....my only question is why should the american taxpayer get stuck footing the bill for protecting private property/merchandise/cargo? How's about the shipping companys and their insurance companys pay the bill. (which of course would get tacked on to the cost of shipping goods) But it's not like the US is getting any great benefit from the shipping of goods INTO that region. The US taxpayer can't pay for everything....we're already up to 3x over out head in debt. Draining a nations resources to fight numerous foreign wars is part of what led to the downfall of the Roman empire.

I just think that is stinks that these shipping companies could defend themselves and their crews, but they choose not to because of liability reasons, yet then turn around and say that the US military funded by the taxpayers should pick up the cost to the tune of many millions of dollars to do it for them. What the Navy should do is send a bill to Maersk for the cost of that one rescue and I would be suddenly they would see the benefit in their "cost/benefit" analysis as to why it's cheaper to arm and protect themselves.

04-16-2009, 3:25 PM
I wrote an essay on this topic in my university newspaper today. Read it here: http://mustangdaily.net/congress-must-embrace-private-solution-to-piracy/

04-16-2009, 3:31 PM
Can't they just put sanctions on them? Worked with Iran, N. Korea, Cuba...oh wait, it didn't.

04-16-2009, 5:33 PM
Can't they just put sanctions on them? Worked with Iran, N. Korea, Cuba...oh wait, it didn't.

That plus Somalia doesn't have a real government or economy; it's basically a bunch of pastoral tribes led by warlords.