Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An unsurprising denial from pirates: "We didn't shoot first!"

Reported in the ongoing saga of the two US Navy warships and the armed "innocents" who ran across their path "Suspected Somali Pirates Deny Shooting At U.S. Navy First".

Let's see. I think the dog bite defense goes: ""My dog doesn't bite, it wasn't my dog, and furthermore, I don't have a dog!"

Somali pirate version: "Those RPGs were for fishing. And for our fishery patrol. And we thought you were just big haze gray fishing trawlers."

UPDATE: Of course, the pirates have their bosses, who can't seem to resist making threats, even when arguing they were doing nothing wrong:
The incident took place in international waters and the Navy took a dozen suspects, including the wounded, into custody after the gunbattle.

Saleban Aadan Barqad, a spokesman for the militiamen, said a total of 27 Somali militiamen had been patrolling off the coast before the gunbattle. Fourteen returned to shore safely, Barqad said on two-way radio from the central Somali town of Harardhere.

The U.S. Navy opened fire first on the small utility boat, which was towing a pair of skiffs, Barqad said. He said the boat then caught fire.

The militiamen, "were in an operation to protect the country's sea resources from illicit exploitation by foreign vessels," Barqad said.

Geraad Mohamud, from the same militia group, said they would kill any hostage they capture and would attack any ship unlawfully plying Somali waters unless their men were released. (emphasis added)

Now suppose the argument is that these RPG-armed morons were patrolling Somali territorial waters? Well:
Territorial waters, or a territorial sea, is a belt of coastal waters extending twelve nautical miles from the shore of a littoral state that is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, except that foreign ships (both military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it.
A sovereign state has complete jurisdiction over internal waters, where not even innocent passage is allowed. Territorial waters extend out 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the mean low water mark adjacent to land, or from internal waters, per the 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
So if the incident occurred 25 miles off Somalia, the territorial waters claim doesn't seem to hold too much, uh, water. Well, then what about
Somalia's Exclusive Economic Zone?
In international maritime law, an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a seazone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources. Generally a state's EEZ extends to a distance of 200 nautical miles (370 km) out from its coast, except where resulting points would be closer to another country. Technically it does not include the state's territorial waters, so the EEZ's inner boundary follows the borders of the state's territorial waters (usually 12 nautical miles from the coast).
Probably a better argument, but there is the question of whether these armed men were authorized to be doing "fisheries patrol." It does not appear they were authorized by anything resembling a Somali government, because there ain't much there that resembles a government. But even that "government" has asked the US Navy and other powers to take on the role of "fishery patrol" as noted here. That makes it pretty clear that the thugs involved here have no sanction beyond that of the war lords who threaten true innocents while holding up food supplies for their putative countrymen.

Even the UN has asked that somebody do something off Somalia:
In addition to attacking international shipping, pirates have targeted U.N. aid shipments intended to bring relief to the area, which has suffered a severe drought.

Saturday's engagement came three days after the U.N. Security Council encouraged naval forces off Somalia to be vigilant and take action against piracy.

"So, we've been keeping an eye on that while we've been conducting maritime security operations," Breslau said.

Since 1991, Somalia, with a population of more than

8 million, has had no effective central government and has instead been torn by clashes between rival militias.

Piracy has become rampant off the country's coast, and many shipping companies have resorted to paying ransoms to protect their vessels and crews.
Nice background piece here.

UPDATE: (3/20/2006) Update here. Commanding Officer of Navy cruiser says pirates fired first.

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