Finally, action instead of talk

Finally, there comes an end to negotiations with international thugs.

The surgical removal by snipers to take out three of the pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips wasn’t without future risk to those who venture into the Indian Ocean but it may be the only approach the kidnappers from Somalia understand. And if it leads to more violence as hand wringers warn, it may just be the price of securing some freedom on the high seas. Furthermore, a decision to continue to negotiate rather than respond firmly undoubtedly would prolong the overall threat to shipping that has emboldened the brigands and made them wealthy with ransom money.

That certainly is implicit in the fact that thanks to a negotiation policy there are some 250 hostages being held by the pirates in a land where there essentially is no government. That this could occur in the 21st Century without a coordinated response from nations with impacted merchant interests is dumbfounding.

Most Americans will cheer the action that ended this improbable scenario by carrying out presidential orders to eliminate the captors if there was imminent danger to the life of the brave captain who had persuaded them to take him and not his ship and fellow crew members. In fact, much of the civilized world would advocate using major force to stop this and that includes destroying the sanctuaries along the Somali coast.

Earlier, the French government took similar action, militarily relieving pirates of a highjacked luxury yacht and its occupants. While one hostage was killed in the action, it was a solution long in coming.

Although the pirates seem strictly motivated by money and have so far not killed their hostages, that couldn’t be expected to last even without the rescue of Phillips. It is inevitable that sometime or another even without a forceful response from their victims, the untrained criminals will make a life-taking mistake.

The high seas policy of leaving merchant ships without means to defend themselves sure has been effective, hasn’t it? Wouldn’t it be better if the pirates, mainly armed with rifles, handguns and a few grenades, realized that Ship X was capable of blowing them and their open boats into the next world? It seems fairly obvious that they would think twice before shouting, "Heave to." Those who argue that the bad guys would just get their own rockets and use them may be correct, but only if their motives were other than monetary.

Evidence of that seems clear in the fact the Somali elders tried to end the situation by offering to free Phillips if the four pirates holding him were given free passage home. Why mess up a good thing by doing something silly? Let’s all go home and call it a day.

But the FBI, which entered the talks several days ago, rightfully demanded that the pirates be prosecuted, which of course put a different spin on what the Somali’s have been used to — one that holds out the possibility that the next words are "drop your weapons or we shoot."

But the point of all this is that sadly the interest of long-range safety and justice would not have been served well without anything less of an outcome. If history tells us anything it is that there is only one way to treat extortion. The nation learned that the hard way in the lingering impact of the Iranian crisis of 1979-81.

Unless, the world’s powers want to shut down commerce and free travel in that part of the ocean and perhaps other areas, they should act now with whatever force is necessary to convince the pirates that what you saw in the Phillips escapade is what you will get from now on.

The era of romanticized swashbuckling anarchy on the high seas was relatively brief because it wasn’t tolerated. The sacrifices one must pay for ending piracy now could be high but not as high as they could be otherwise.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)