Solving the Piracy Problem

Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has just returned from a trip to Africa to investigate the problem of piracy, particularly off the Horn of Africa. He has suggested some measures to deal with a major threat to international trade, such as blockading the pirate ports, but this would merely delay a resolution. How much did a decade long no-fly zone over Iraq really accomplish? So my counter-suggestion is for Senator Kirk to introduce legislation re-introducing the payment of prize money to members of the United States Navy.

The prevailing legal precedent would be the payment of prize money in 1947 to the crews of the USS Omaha (CL-4) and the USS Somerset (DD-381) for their capture of the German blockade runner Odenwald while on Neutrality Patrol off Puerto Rico in November 1941.  The Admiralty Court's decision was to pay each member of the boarding party and prize crew $3000 and all other members of the crews two months' pay and allowances. Given the ravages of inflation, the bounty paid to the boarding party should be raised to $25,000 and we should continue the payment of two months' pay to the rest of the crew. Details of this episode can be found on the Strategy Page website.

There are established protocols for ascertaining the nationality of ships at sea.  The substance of these is to display your colors in anticipation that the other vessel will raise hers.  If that doesn't work you can signal her to heave to, fire a shot across her bow and then fire a shot to disable her in a well established escalation chain.  The basic principle is nicely summarized by the pirates' Jolly Roger flag delineating herself as a pirate ship when attacking a merchant ship.  We simply intend to reverse the odds and which vessel surrenders!

So in our notional action, a U S Navy destroyer sails into a pirate port and displays the Stars and Stripes and trains her guns on the captured ships.  That may be enough to get the pirates to abandon their prizes and flee, but if not, the ship will have armed Marines including a sniper to deal with any recalcitrant pirates in the same manner as the SEALs dealt with the pirates who took the Maersk Alabama!  Having seized control of the ships, the destroyer would put prize crews aboard to sail them to a port with an admiralty court to have the vessels legally returned to their proper owners under the legal concept of "military salvage". Donald A. Petrie's book, The Prize Game ( U S Naval Institute Press - ISBN 1-55750-669-8) describes the process this way

"...but owners did not recover their property scot free.  The maritime law of nations, ever mindful that money motivates, and wishing to encourage all sailors to help their countrymen to recover their property from the enemy, decreed that recaptors should receive a financial rewards from the owners.  The law employed the analogy of a ship, at peril on the sea, saved from destruction by volunteers, called salvors.  Immemorially, maritime courts imposed upon the owner a share of the value of the ship and cargo saved, judicially determined to be proportionate to the labor involved and the risks taken.  So in the case of recapture, prize courts and legislatures have imposed a similar charge upon the owner, called "military" salvage."

The military salvage would be due to the United States Navy, which under this new authorizing legislation, would then pass some of the bounty to those who actually did the work. A small token of appreciation from a grateful nation to those who serve the cause of freedom upon the high seas.
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has just returned from a trip to Africa to investigate the problem of piracy, particularly off the Horn of Africa. He has suggested some measures to deal with a major threat to international trade, such as blockading the pirate ports, but this would merely delay a resolution. How much did a decade long no-fly zone over Iraq really accomplish? So my counter-suggestion is for Senator Kirk to introduce legislation re-introducing the payment of prize money to members of the United States Navy.

The prevailing legal precedent would be the payment of prize money in 1947 to the crews of the USS Omaha (CL-4) and the USS Somerset (DD-381) for their capture of the German blockade runner Odenwald while on Neutrality Patrol off Puerto Rico in November 1941.  The Admiralty Court's decision was to pay each member of the boarding party and prize crew $3000 and all other members of the crews two months' pay and allowances. Given the ravages of inflation, the bounty paid to the boarding party should be raised to $25,000 and we should continue the payment of two months' pay to the rest of the crew. Details of this episode can be found on the Strategy Page website.

There are established protocols for ascertaining the nationality of ships at sea.  The substance of these is to display your colors in anticipation that the other vessel will raise hers.  If that doesn't work you can signal her to heave to, fire a shot across her bow and then fire a shot to disable her in a well established escalation chain.  The basic principle is nicely summarized by the pirates' Jolly Roger flag delineating herself as a pirate ship when attacking a merchant ship.  We simply intend to reverse the odds and which vessel surrenders!

So in our notional action, a U S Navy destroyer sails into a pirate port and displays the Stars and Stripes and trains her guns on the captured ships.  That may be enough to get the pirates to abandon their prizes and flee, but if not, the ship will have armed Marines including a sniper to deal with any recalcitrant pirates in the same manner as the SEALs dealt with the pirates who took the Maersk Alabama!  Having seized control of the ships, the destroyer would put prize crews aboard to sail them to a port with an admiralty court to have the vessels legally returned to their proper owners under the legal concept of "military salvage". Donald A. Petrie's book, The Prize Game ( U S Naval Institute Press - ISBN 1-55750-669-8) describes the process this way

"...but owners did not recover their property scot free.  The maritime law of nations, ever mindful that money motivates, and wishing to encourage all sailors to help their countrymen to recover their property from the enemy, decreed that recaptors should receive a financial rewards from the owners.  The law employed the analogy of a ship, at peril on the sea, saved from destruction by volunteers, called salvors.  Immemorially, maritime courts imposed upon the owner a share of the value of the ship and cargo saved, judicially determined to be proportionate to the labor involved and the risks taken.  So in the case of recapture, prize courts and legislatures have imposed a similar charge upon the owner, called "military" salvage."

The military salvage would be due to the United States Navy, which under this new authorizing legislation, would then pass some of the bounty to those who actually did the work. A small token of appreciation from a grateful nation to those who serve the cause of freedom upon the high seas.

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