Three shots. Three dead pirates. One rescued hostage. The SEAL rescue off Somalia was Hollywood-brilliant.
Yet before we pop too much champagne, and unleash the SEALs and Delta Force to kick pirate ass, let’s look at this CNN video and WashPost article. They show an out-of-fuel lifeboat, containing four pirates and the hostage, being towed by an 80-foot rope attached to the destroyer USS Bainbridge. While one of the four pirates was on the Bainbridge for medical treatment, the three other buccaneers threaten to kill Captain Phillips. One jams a gun into the hostage’s back, while the other two stick their heads out of the lifeboat’s hatch. Three SEAL snipers laying on the Bainbridge’s stern then pick off the pirates, while other commandos shimmy across the rope .
I’m no expert on hostage rescue. But during the next operation, I wonder if the following conditions will also hold true:
* the boat holding the pirates and hostages will be roped to a Navy warship
* one-quarter of the pirate force will travel to the Navy destroyer for medical treatment
* two-thirds of the remaining pirates will stick their heads out of the boat’s hatch and into the sights of SEAL snipers
This doesn’t take away from the technical brilliance of the Maersk Alabama rescue. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the next group of hijackers won’t be so obliging. Maybe they’ll take the hostages to shore where lots of their heavily-armed friends are waiting. Or, disperse the hostages around the ship. Or, wire the ship with explosives.
I have no doubts that U.S. special operations forces can kill the hijackers and rescue most of the hostages. But I am concerned that the success of the Maersk Alabama rescue will lull the public into believing that a tough line on piracy will be bloodless. As French commandos discovered, it’s hard to mount a rescue without endangering hostages.
Strong military action is needed is needed to convince the bad guys that piracy doesn’t pay. But are we willing to pay our own price?