Getting Medieval

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Well, the Somalis are at it again, seizing yet another large vessel. Meanwhile, our JCS chairman is slack-jawed at the audacity of it all, pronouncing himself “stunned” that the pirates could range so far and wide for prey. One would think that our Navy hasn’t fought any ship-to-ship battles late … oh, right.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering if the US should reprise the Reagan-era tanker reflagging and slap Old Glory on a few of the tubs floating off the Horn. There’s also the old “letters of marque and reprisal” option that’s enshrined in the Constitution to permit the commissioning of privateers. For there record, here’s part of what the US Code has to say about dealing with piracy:

§ 382. Seizure of piratical vessels generally

The President is authorized to instruct the commanders of the public armed vessels of the United States to subdue, seize, take, and send into any port of the United States, any armed vessel or boat, or any vessel or boat, the crew whereof shall be armed, and which shall have attempted or committed any piratical aggression, search, restraint, depredation, or seizure, upon any vessel of the United States, or of the citizens thereof, or upon any other vessel; and also to retake any vessel of the United States, or its citizens, which may have been unlawfully captured upon the high seas.

§ 383. Resistance of pirates by merchant vessels

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.

§ 386. Commissioning private vessels for seizure of piratical vessels

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.

It’s all there in Title 33 (“Navigation and Navigable Waters”), Chapter 7. Bottom line, this is one where the president doesn’t have to ask permission.

Good thing, too. In addition to possibly contributing to more economic turmoil, piracy could one day prove a genuine security threat:

Security specialists are concerned that pirates might someday seize a tanker carrying pressurized liquefied natural gas, or LNG, then blow it up or sell it to terrorists.

“If it was an LNG tanker seized, we’re looking at something potentially catastrophic,” said Candyce Kelshall, a specialist in maritime energy security at Blue Water Defence, a Trinidad-based firm that provides training to governments and companies combating piracy. “An LNG tanker going up is like 50 Hiroshimas.”

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