Pirates have incentives too

Somalia’s pirates represent one of the world’s biggest hostage crises, with 260 crewmen currently held. Hilary Clinton has now outlined a four-point plan, including increased patrols and asset freezing.

The gap not yet plugged: shipping companies are still paying millions per hostage and ship.

Here’s an idea: incentives matter. So long as gunmen are getting millions per seizure, all the patrols in the world are not going to end the piracy.

What’s more, every million paid further empowers and entrenches the criminal network. This is why we have a major problem on our hands today: because the petty piracy (and million dollar payments) were ignored five years ago.

What prohibition was to organized crime in the US, piracy and payments are to Somali criminals. Sixty years and endless police action later, America has curbed the power of the mafia. How long will East Africa be stuck with these motley seamen?

Can European and US governments ban ransom payments? I haven’t seen a single discussion of the matter. Airstrikes, on the other hand, have excited the Team America crowd.

So far, Feingold makes the most sense to me. But who’s talking to the ransomees?

3 thoughts on “Pirates have incentives too

  1. The French Govt would agree with you as they just stormed a yacht holding a hostage. The only problem was the death of the person they were trying to set free. So I guess if you can handle the short run political costs then you have a better policy. The French electorate arent too concerned about a round the world sailor (however tragic his death), but what about risking the death of all American hero Navy captains – would Obama take that risk.

    Margaret Thatcher did with the Iranian hostage crisis in 1982 and made her “no negotiating with terrorists” a near electoral platform – that worked for her although didnt bring an end to IRA activities.

    You say “what prohibition was to organized crime”. Dont you mean, what prohibition “is” to organized crime? I mean prohibition of drugs which is making alot of Tony Montana criminals very rich both in the US and Mexico. Has endless police-DEA action curbed their power? A better incentive would be to legalize and tax, removing the need for violent action and intimidation of justice authorities to protect production and trade.

  2. Actually…asking westerners to no dump their toxic waste on Somali coasts killing fish populations thereby compelling small fishermen to make money by the only other option (piracy), would probably be a better mitigation than the use of violence. Did I mention that their government sucks at everything including filing complaints about the garbage dumping?


  3. as a thought – the “incentives matter” line seems awfully problematic here. As you note, withholding ransom payments doesn’t really appear feasible.
    What would be feasible is dramatically pushing up the risk of piracy – i.e. go the way of the British navy – and just sink any pirate ship you come about using heavy navy artillery.
    I don’t like the thought at all – but if incentives are your main criteria, pushing up the cost part of the pirates’ utility function seems like a pretty obvious choice.