CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–February 28, 2011. In the wake of the killings of four Americans last week, U. S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) drew attention Monday to a recent New York Times report detailing the escalating threat to the international shipping industry from increasingly demanding and violent Somali pirates.
Senator Kirk said he will advance anti-piracy legislative options to safeguard U.S. economic and security interests off the coast of east Africa.
“The murder of four Americans shows the requirement for a tough response to Somali pirates,” Senator Kirk said. “This is a growing problem, not only victimizing innocent Americans handing out bibles, but also the safe passage of oil-filled tankers bound for the United States.”
Senator Kirk, who plans a mission this spring to the Horn of Africa to get a first-hand look at current anti-piracy efforts on both land and sea, said published reports confirm that bloody Somali pirate attacks are on the rise, expanding their threat to critical oil shipping. The Horn of Africa has the most growth potential for two burgeoning al Qaeda franchises: al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), a morph of an earlier ultraviolent Algerian Islamist movement, and Somalia’s al-Shabaab group, which effectively controls 80 percent of Somalia, pledging loyalty to Osama bin Laden in early 2010.
The New York Times reported Sunday the Somali pirates now sail more than 1,000 miles from east Africa to find prey. They have extorted more than $100 million in ransom. Today’s ransom demands are as high as $5 million for ship owners—costs that get passed on to consumers.
The “red zone” patrolled by Western forces, including the United States, also has expanded to more than one million square miles of water, an area that naval officers told the New York Time is impossible to control.
Senator Kirk is calling his effort to explore anti-piracy options the “Decatur Initiative,” named after the legendary Navy captain Stephen Decatur, who became a national hero when he recaptured the U.S. frigate Philadelphia from pirates in Tripoli during the Barbary War of 1801-1805.
“Captain Decatur, for whom Decatur, Illinois, is named, torched the Philadelphia so it couldn’t be used by the pirates again,” Senator Kirk said. “I think we could learn an important lesson from that strategy.”
Senator Kirk said he is studying the advancement of several anti-piracy legislative options, including but not limited to, establishment of:
•A ‘Pirate Exclusion Zone’ that would allow the immediate boarding and/or sinking of any vessel from Somalia not approved and certified for sea by allied forces;
•An Expedited Legal Regime permitting trial and detention of pirates captured on the high seas;
•Blockade of pirate-dominated ports like Hobyo, Somalia.
•Broad powers and authority to on-scene commanders to attack or arrest pirates once outside Somalia’s 12-mile territorial limit, including the sinking of vessels if a local commander deems it warranted.
Through his position on the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Kirk will explore financial links between pirates and the terrorist groups al Shabaab and IQIM, and target pirates with financial sanctions in the same way as other terrorist networks.
With his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he will review U.S. expenditures to support stabilizing governments in the region.
“This effort will recall the spirit of President Thomas Jefferson and the first major mission of the U.S. Navy,” said Senator Kirk, a 20-year intelligence officer in the Naval Reserves. “The open ocean should become increasingly dangerous for pirates to operate against the world’s most powerful navy.”
With each successful Somali pirate operation, expert worry about profits used to support terrorism against America and her allies. According to a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service, authorities reported 445 incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships in 2010, representing the fourth consecutive year of increased reports of piracy incidents since 2006.
In 2010, 1,201 crew members were taken hostage, kidnapped or ransomed in increasingly violent attacks, according to the CRS report. USA Today reported that the pirate attacks around the Horn of Africa increased another 10 percent in 2010 to 160 from 145 in 2009. Somali pirates were responsible for the majority of those attacks.
According to the New York Times, the pirates currently hold more than 50 vessels and more than 800 hostages—figures that are consistently on the rise.
Experts say the hostages normally are held an average of six months while the pirates await their ransom. Recently, however, pirate attacks have become increasingly violent as the seafaring predators troll the waters far from their homeland.
The four Americans killed February 22 were sailing these troubled waters when Somali pirates seized their 58-foot yacht in the Arabian Sea. U.S. Navy forces trailed the yacht, the Quest, and stormed the vessel upon hearing gunfire.
Authorities said by the time U.S. forces boarded the yacht, pirates had already shot and killed Californians Jean and Scott Adams. The Adams family had been handing out bibles to new acquaintances during a sailing trip around the world. Fellow sailors Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle, both of Seattle, were also murdered. Authorities said the killings marked the first time the Somali pirates had killed U.S. citizens they had taken hostage.
President Obama authorized Navy warships to follow the Americans’ yacht and use deadly force if necessary just as he did in 2009 when four Somali pirates captured the container ship Maersk Alabama in the Indian Ocean. Navy SEALS shot and killed four Somali pirates who had taken the ship.
For a map showing the range and rapid expansion of pirate attacks, visit here.