DiFi to pirates: ‘Avast, ye scurvy dogs!’

Well, not exactly. But in a letter to President Barack Obama last week, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein did say the government should put armed security teams aboard U.S.-flagged shipping vessels operating on pirate-infested seas.

Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the move as a stop-gap measure until there’s a more comprehensive, international plan to deal with rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia. She also said today she’ll author a bill to make armed security teams a requirement for U.S.-flag vessels sailing through dangerous waters.

“I believe that any U.S.-flag shipping vessel operating in the Gulf of Aden or the Straits of Malacca – or in any other high piracy zone – should be required to have armed security teams aboard,” she said. “I have listened to a lot of rhetoric and reasons for not doing this and how there must be a political solution to the ongoing chaos within Somalia. But in the meantime, the number of hijackings continues to go up, and more than 200 hostages are being held. This is unacceptable.”

Feinstein notes pirates attacked over 90 commercial ships in 2008, hijacking 40 and reaping an estimated $120 million in ransom. The Maersk Alabama — from which Capt. Richard Phillips was seized and held hostage by pirates, necessitating a rescue by Navy SEALs — was but one of several ships hijacked recently, and now pirates threaten to target and harm the crews of U.S.-flagged ships in the region. “I believe we must take strong, decisive action to make sure the crews on these ships are protected from the menace of piracy.”

Yarrrrgh. Read Feinstein’s letter to Obama in its entirety, after the jump…

April 14, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I am writing to urge you to place armed security teams on board U.S. flagged vessels operating off of Somalia’s coast until the international community can implement appropriate measures to stop the growing threat of piracy in the area.

First, let me extend my sincere congratulations to you and the U.S. Navy SEALs who saved the life of Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama in a brilliantly executed operation. All Americans can take pride in their bravery and professionalism and the safe return of Captain Phillips to his family and friends.

The threat of additional hijackings and loss of innocent life, however, remain high:

· Pirates continue to hold over a dozen ships and 200 hostages.
· Pirates have threatened to kill hostages in retaliation for the successful rescue operation of Captain Phillips.
· In 2008, pirates attacked over 90 commercial ships and successfully hijacked 40 ships.
· The Maersk Alabama was the sixth ship seized in one week alone.

In addition, it is estimated that pirates have earned more than $120 million in ransom payments from these hijackings. Such payments only fuel a vicious cycle of additional seizures and ransom demands and make the operation of vessels in international waters untenable and may well end up in the hands of groups engaged in international terrorism.

The United States must do more to fight this threat. On December 16, 2008, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary means” by foreign military sources to combat piracy in Somalia. In response, several countries including the United States, Russia, India, and France have deployed warships to the region. And, yet, the attacks continue.

Until a more effective international regime can be put in place, there is, in my view, no alternative to placing armed security teams on board these vessels to protect the ship and crew from pirate attacks. There are simply not enough warships from the United States or other naval powers to protect every unarmed commercial vessel in the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden and deter future attacks. These pirates must know that they will not be able to launch attacks with impunity.

I appreciate your attention to this request and I look forward to hearing from you.


Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Amasaman

    This woman wants to remove all ownership of weapons for self defense from every second amendment loving American, yet wants armed details on US flagged ships. What a hypocrit!