Excerpt from William Shakespeare – Hamlet 3/1:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.

Here I present a POINT: Prosecute and Imprison Somali Pirates and COUNTER-POINT: Hang captured pirates at sea or sink pirate ships at sea with all hands aboard. This age old question is reflected in two Latin maxims:

Via antiqua via est tuta
The old way is the safe way.

Salus populi est suprema lex.
The safety of the people is the highest law.

POINT: PROSECUTE AND IMPRISON (Sri Lanka), Tipping Point: Seafarers Mock Anti-Piracy Effort, Mull Indian Ocean Boycott, February 26, 2011:

Feb 26, 2011 (LBO) – The global seafarers union has warned it would advise members against sailing in the Indian Ocean to avoid Somali pirates and mocked as “ludicrous” naval action that confiscate guns and set pirates free to strike again.

Over 800 seafarers are being held hostage by Somali pirates, who executed two seafarers last month and the grave increase in the level of violence against ships and seafarers has reached a tipping point which calls for bold countermeasures, the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) said.

They now routinely use death threats, torture and brutality,” it said in a statement.

“We therefore advise seafarers and their trade unions to begin to prepare to refuse to go through the danger area, which includes the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast, the Arabian Sea and the wider Indian Ocean.”

The ITF warned that should sailors boycott the piracy zone it would have serious effects on world trade and oil and food prices.

The world has lost control of piracy,” ITF seafarers’ section chair Dave Heindel said.

Each day it’s becoming more savage and more widespread. All the Arabian Gulf and most of the Indian Ocean are now effectively lawless.

“Yet there is a way that control can be regained: by actively going after pirates, stopping them and prosecuting them. Not this ludicrous situation of taking away their guns and setting them free to strike again.”

Although the world’s most powerful navies have deployed warships to tackle Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, the campaign is ineffective.

This is because of the inability to patrol such a vast ocean area and the inadequacy of international maritime laws, some over a century old, to deal with the legal complexities caused by modern piracy.

Ship owners, operators, charterers and shippers come from different countries, the ships themselves are manned by multinational crews and are registered with different flag states, anti-piracy patrols are done by several navies and regional states are reluctant to bear the burden of prosecuting pirates.

“The burden of dealing with pirates is being borne by a few nations and the burden of actually taking them to court by even fewer,” said Heindel of the ITF seafarers’ section.

“We have repeatedly requested stronger intervention by all governments, including the flag of convenience states that are reaping the profits from so much of the world’s shipping fleet without meeting any of the obligations.

“If we daily allow a few thousand thugs to rack up the danger and violence then we will soon reach a point where there is no alternative but to stop putting people and ships within their reach – with all the effects that could have on world trade and oil and food prices.”

The ITF said these latest moves reflect growing concern or even disgust across the shipping industry that pirates are being allowed to endanger lives, kill and put a stranglehold on vital trade routes almost at will.

They warned that “ship owners and their crews will be re-evaluating their current determination to ensure that this vital trade route remains open – over 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil passes through the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

“The shipping industry will be looking at all possible options, including alternative routes, which could have a dramatic effect on transport costs and delivery times – piracy is already estimated to cost the global economy between 7-12 billion US dollars per year.”

The ITF also endorsed the need to neutralise the threat of the captured, hostage-crewed motherships that are allowing pirates to roam the Indian Ocean unmolested, recommended the carrying of military guards on ships, and recognised the use of private armed guards, subject to certain conditions.

“Flag States have the primary responsibility to exercise their jurisdiction over persons who have been apprehended in a situation where there are grounds to arrest them,” the ITF said.

“The alleged pirates should receive a fair trial and, if found guilty, face proportionate criminal sanctions. To this end flag States should conclude suitable bilateral agreements with other States which have deployed naval forces to facilitate the speedy extradition of pirates to the flag State.

“Other States are encouraged to exercise jurisdiction over persons who have been apprehended by their naval forces and, where there are grounds, to subject them to a fair trial and, if found guilty, to proportionate criminal sanctions.”

The Somali piracy crisis comes at a time when the global merchant marine faces an acute manpower shortage caused by difficulties in attracting seafarers to man the hundreds of new ships being deployed to cater to increasing world trade.

COUNTER-POINT: HANG ‘EM HIGH! (South Africa), Hang the Pirates, February 17, 2011 (Flag of Noway depicted at right):

Norwegian shipping magnate Jacob Stolt-Nielsen believes that stronger measures need to be taken to deal with Somali pirates, saying “The only way to put this business in decline is to hang them.”

He expresses his frustration at what he claims is the international community’s half-hearted approach to piracy, as pirates are often captured and released but seldom tried successfully in international courts. For instance, on Wednesday February 9 the Danish warship HDMS Esbern Snare released six Somali pirates who had been held since December 30, after being suspected of attacking the Danish ship Elly Maersk. They were release along the Somali coast due to a lack of evidence against them. It appears the pirates threw their weapons overboard when the crew of the Esbern Snare boarded their vessel.

In a separate incident on Saturday the 12th, the Esbern Snare stopped a suspicious vessel with two skiffs on its deck. A boarding party found equipment used for pirating ships, including boarding ladders, automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades. 14 suspected pirates were arrested and two Yemeni hostages released, but the pirates were taken ashore and released as there was not enough evidence, despite all the equipment found, for a conviction in a Danish court.

The only language these pirates understand is force,” Stolt-Nielsen told the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “Sinking their ship [with] all hands aboard is the way to solve the problem.”

Stolt-Nielsen of Stolt-Nielsen Limited says it stations armed guards on board its vessels, paying approximately US$1 million per month for its some 150 ships. Stolt-Nielsen CEO Niels G Stolt-Nielsen (Jacob’s father) told DN they have also used barbed wire and hot water to repel pirates.

Experts say 2011 will be one of the worst years for piracy – there have already been three successful hijackings in the past week. On February 8, Pirates attacked and boarded the Italian-flagged and owned oil tanker MV Savina Caylyn in the Indian Ocean, with 22 crew and US$60 million worth of crude oil on board. It is currently heading for the Somali coast.

On February 9 the MV Irene SL, a Greek-flagged and Panamanian owned tanker carrying 266 000 tons of crude oil worth US$200 million, was hijacked in the Arabian sea, and last Saturday the bulk carrier MV Sinin was hijacked by Somali pirates 350 nautical miles east of Oman in the northern Arabian Sea.

Presently there are [over 800 crew] and [at least 50 ships] being held by pirates, with many of these being used as bargaining tools and human shields – it is common for pirates to bring hostages out on deck and beat them if a warship comes too close. Indeed, pirates are becoming increasingly violent and willing to retaliate against international naval forces. On January 26 an element of the international anti-piracy contingent unsuccessfully tried to free the crew of the captured Beluga Nomination, and killed a pirate in the process. In retaliation the pirates shot and killed a Filipino crewmember.

Jacob Stolt-Nielsen believes eliminating the pirates is worth the risk of retaliation. “It is conceivable the pirates would take revenge on the crews they are already holding hostage, one must realise this. However, this is war, and wars cost lives,” he says.

Pirates captured in international waters have always been punished with death, often carried out there and then. The Romans had problems in northern Africa, the Vikings were pirates, and North African so-called ‘Barbary Corsair’ pirates controlled the Strait of Gibraltar for hundreds of years,” Stolt-Nielsan said. “The business will only stop when it starts costing the pirates too high a price.”

Many pirates were hanged in the 17th and 18th centuries, most notoriously Captain William Kidd (1645-1701) and ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham (1682-1720). The last pirate to be hanged was Nat Gordon in New York in 1862. Most pirates were given summary trials and then “hanged from the nearest yardarm.” As infamous captains, Kidd and Rackham received formal trials before execution. Their bodies were afterwards enclosed in iron cages and left to swing from gibbetsuntil the flesh rotted off them.

Gibbet:  “an upright post with a projecting arm (i.e., a yardarm of a ship) for hanging the bodies of executed criminals (i.e. pirates) in chains or irons”

Roy Avery, Philadelphia Oddities: The Gibbet, (Picture courtesy of the Atwater Kent Museum):

This is undoubtedly the city’s most unique and macabre artifact. It’s a human form made of iron bands designed to hold the body of an executed criminal for the purpose of public display. The device — more or less — held the rotting corpse together for several weeks. The 18th century artifact at the Atwater Kent Museum is America’s only complete gibbet. A partial gibbet survives in a museum in Salem, Mass. The primary meaning of the word “gibbet” is simply a gallows. The steel frame to display the culprit’s body is properly called a “gibbet iron.” But there are references to displaying the body as “gibbeting” and soon the steel frame, itself, was also called “a gibbet.”

It was a European custom transferred to the New World. Gibbeting was saved for crimes our colonial ancestors considered the most heinous: a wife who murdered her husband, a slave who killed his master or mistress or for pirates.

The Atwater Kent gibbet was made in 1781 to display the body of convicted pirate Thomas Wilkinson. He was to be hung on Windmill Island in the Delaware River off Market Street. (The island was later removed to aid navigation). His body was “to be hung in gibbets” on Mud Island, also known as Fort Mifflin. Probably Mud Island was selected so sailors on passing ships might be warned of the consequences of piracy. In 1780, Wilkinson and an accomplice seized “the prize ship, Richmond” by force in the port of Philadelphia and sailed it to Charleston, then in British hands. But Wilkinson escaped the gallows and gibbeting after a surprisingly large number of important and influential Philadelphians sign a petition asking mercy for the pirate. The hanging was postponed, and it appears that Wilkinson’s life was spared. But his gibbet iron was already made and paid for by the state. It was stored in the old Walnut Street Prison then hung as a warning to prisoners in Moyamensing Prison. It was transferred to the Atwater Kent Museum in the 1940s. The gibbet is now on display at the museum.

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