Former State Dept. Officials Discuss Piracy Problem

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - April 13, 2009

GWEN IFILL: Our lead story: More details emerged today about the rescue of Captain Richard Phillips and the killing of his three pirate captors by U.S. Navy SEAL snipers off the coast of Somalia.

Phillips' rescue also brought a warning from President Obama to other would-be pirates operating in the Horn of Africa.

Ray Suarez has more.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to take a moment to say how pleased I am about the rescue of Captain Phillips and his safe return to the USS Boxer this weekend.

RAY SUAREZ: The morning after the rescue, the president praised the operation and the man it freed. He said Captain Phillips' safety was the "principal concern."

BARACK OBAMA: I am very proud of the efforts of the U.S. military and many other departments and agencies that worked tirelessly to resolve this situation.

I share our nation's admiration for Captain Phillips' courage and leadership and selfless concern for his crew.

And I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of privacy in that region. And to achieve that goal, we're going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise. And we have to ensure that those who commit acts of piracy are held accountable for their crimes.

RAY SUAREZ: Phillips was held for five days. The killings of his captors led to vows of vengeance from pirates operating in the waters off the lawless East African nation of Somalia. More than a dozen ships with 230 sailors held hostage remain under their control in the area.

The ship Phillips captains, the freighter Maersk Alabama, was attacked last Wednesday and held for a short time before its crew repelled the bandits. Phillips was taken in a botched prisoner exchange with the pirates.

The pirates were killed with three single shots from the fantail of the USS Bainbridge, a Navy destroyer that had towed the small lifeboat holding Phillips to within 90 feet of its stern.

The Navy's elite special operators had parachuted into the area Saturday evening, landing in the ocean and swimming to the Bainbridge.

Rear Admiral Michelle Howard is aboard the USS Boxer, where Phillips was taken immediately following his rescue. She heads Task Force 151, a coalition of naval vessels combating piracy in the area.

REAR ADM. MICHELLE HOWARD, U.S. Navy: This is one of most challenging situations I have encountered in my time in the Navy, and I've been in 27 years. There's a translator onboard. We had the captain of the Bainbridge pretty much working as the hostage negotiator. And we were getting tremendous support from FBI folks back stateside.

RAY SUAREZ: I asked the admiral if she thought yesterday's direct action against the pirates would make it harder to deal with their comrades in the future.

REAR ADM. MICHELLE HOWARD: Yes, sir. That it is quite possible that we will have some emotional responses from the pirates.

As time goes on, that may be tempered by reality. They will increase their vigilance. And the other point is, after today, they should have second thoughts about taking on American ships and kidnapping American citizens.

ANDREA PHILLIPS, husband of Richard Phillips: So it's not going to come out very loud.

RAY SUAREZ: Late today, a hoarse and happy Andrea Phillips greeted reporters near the home she shares with her husband, Richard, in Vermont. A written statement thanked the president, the Navy, and all the people who supported her and her husband through five difficult days.

The Maersk Alabama docked Saturday in Mombasa, Kenya, its original destination. The ship's crew, which last night celebrated their captain's release, had a far more direct message today.

Shane Murphy is the boat's second-in-command.

SHANE MURPHY, chief mate, Maersk Alabama: There are ships still being taken right now as we're standing here. And at sea, it's a global community. It doesn't come down to nations. There's a whole world out there at sea that we -- we live together. We look out for each other.

America has to be at the forefront of this. It's time for us to step in and put an end to this crisis. It's a crisis. Wake up. This crew was lucky to be out of it with every one of us alive. We're not going to be that lucky again.

Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa, was in Somalia today for meetings with the country's president and prime minister. As he left Somalia, mortars were fired at his plane, but the congressman escaped uninjured. An Islamist group called Al-Shabaab, loosely affiliated with al-Qaida, claimed responsibility.

We get two views on protecting U.S. merchant ships from pirates. Peter Fromuth served in the State Department during the Clinton administration. Stephen Rademaker was in the State Department during the Bush administration.

Peter Fromuth, why don't you follow up what the admiral had to say? I'll ask you as I asked her whether this action by the Americans over the weekend, by the French last week to retake one of their vessels, in which pirates were killed in both actions, does it raise the cost, raise the risk for them on the seas?

PETER FROMUTH, former State Department official: I think clearly it raised the cost this time. It raised the cost last week. It raised the cost when the Indians acted last fall. It raised the cost when the Danes did, too.

I think, however, we need to draw a line here. The U.S. has acted with great restraint, has moved very reluctantly to the use of force. And we've done that because, by and large, the pirates have not taken life. And as long as they do not take life, I think it's going to be prudent on both sides not to continue with the use of force.

So to answer your question, I think it makes very clear to the pirates that, if they do step across that line and apply force or appear to be about to use force imminently, then we are going to move into much more dangerous waters for the pirates.

RAY SUAREZ: Stephen Rademaker, now that the pirates may be getting the idea that they're more likely to die in these actions, might they be more willing to take life?

STEPHEN RADEMAKER, former State Department official: I don't really buy the idea that these pirates got into this business thinking it was a safe profession. I think one becomes a pirate understanding that it's a high-risk proposition, that in exchange for running considerable risks, there are potentially great rewards.

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