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Brendan’s Brilliant Idea #244700 - Pirates

Given the recent news of the kidnapping of Captain Phillips at the hands of Somali pirates and his eventual freeing by the US Navy and Navy Seals, there has been much talk about what can be done to prevent such kidnappings and attacks in future... things ranging from attacking the base camps of these pirates all the way up to unleashing a mass wave of Vikings against the pirates, something I am all in favor of.

Though as an amateur constitutional scholar... it's important to note that such authority is one granted to the federal government.

To quote Article 1, Section 8:

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

US TITLE 18, PART I, CHAPTER 81, § 1651 does just that saying:

Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.

Chapter 81 contains other definitions... but is unfortunately limited on punishments as it assumes you've got the pirate in custody... thankfully Article 1, Section 8 goes further by granting the congress the express authority:

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

Thus I call upon President Obama to push the Congress to grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal to any willing private citizens and groups who are willing to take up arms against the threat piracy, and to use that authority under TITLE 33, CHAPTER 7, § 386 to take action:

The President is authorized to instruct the commanders of the public-armed vessels of the United States, and to authorize the commanders of any other armed vessels sailing under the authority of any letters of marque and reprisal granted by Congress, or the commanders of any other suitable vessels, to subdue, seize, take, and, if on the high seas, to send into any port of the United States, any vessel or boat built, purchased, fitted out, or held as mentioned in section 385 of this title.

In reading the law... there may actually be another option as found in TITLE 33, CHAPTER 7, § 383 (emphasis mine):

The commander and crew of any merchant vessel of the United States, owned wholly, or in part, by a citizen thereof, may oppose and defend against any aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, which shall be attempted upon such vessel, or upon any other vessel so owned, by the commander or crew of any armed vessel whatsoever, not being a public armed vessel of some nation in amity with the United States, and may subdue and capture the same; and may also retake any vessel so owned which may have been captured by the commander or crew of any such armed vessel, and send the same into any port of the United States.

Call me crazy... but § 383 would seem to authorize a private ship to capture a pirate vessel without an express Letter of Marque and Reprisal... at least under US law.

This gives me an even better idea... at present as I see it we have 5 primary options:

  1. Do nothing and continue to pay ransoms
  2. Train merchant crews in armed resistance (and arm them)
  3. Escort merchant ships through dangerous areas
  4. Preemptively attack pirate bases and ships
  5. Bait the pirates

Rather than go through some of the inherent problems with 1-4, lets think about #5... while expensive, why not take the concept behind behind the ‘bait car’... and apply it to ships at sea?

Say what?

Deliberately run decoy vessels through pirate waters, vessels armed with well trained and well armed personnel who would be able to capture or kill any and all pirates who might attack the vessel.

The beauty of #5... is that under § 383... a US owned, flagged and crewed vessel, would not require special permission as they would be the ones being attacked, they are not making the attack. Though they would still need to be careful as to where they sailed and made port (while armed) as many nations do not allow (non-military) armed vessels to travel through their waters.

Anyone up for some fishing for pirates?

Heck... lets expand this idea even more... not only have well armed and trained people on these, they could be outfitted with audio and video surveillance gear, allowing every action of the pirates to be recorded.

Why record everything? Not only could it be used to know just how the pirates operate, but could be used to identify the pirates in case anything bad happens, ensure that the crews are not being overly harsh (which would still be their right), serve as a documented warning to other pirates of the kind of force they might face if they continue in their trade, and most importantly... for pure entertainment.

Imagine Chris Hanson of To Catch a Predator fame walk out a moment before the armed guards saying:

Hey there! Why don't you have a seat?

Why don't you have a seat right over there.

So what are you doing here?

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