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  • Terry and the Pirates: A Firsthand Account of the Continuing Struggle Against Piracy
  • Gia Coluccio (bio)
Rear Admiral Terry McKnight (Ret.) and Michael Hirsh. Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia. Naval Institute Press, 2012.

International waters are home to a multi-billion dollar industry that affects consumers around the globe. This industry—piracy—is more accurately categorized as an organized crime and has existed as long as humankind has been at sea. However, piracy has transformed significantly since the days of Robert Louis Stevenson’s swashbuckling Treasure Island or the United States Navy’s West Indian Squadron. Instead of fighting with shiny swords, modern pirates play with AK-47s; instead of gold, modern pirates pursue multi-million dollar ransoms. In addition to the emotional and physical toll on hundreds of hostages, who sometimes lose their lives in pirate standoffs, piracy costs roughly seven billion dollars every year. These costs are transferred from the shipping companies that experience the pirate attacks to consumers, at the gas pump and in the prices of other commodities.

Few understand modern-day piracy better than Rear Admiral (RADM) Terry McKnight, retired from the United States Navy. McKnight experienced piracy and pirate hunting firsthand while commanding Combined Task Force 151, an international coalition of navies dedicated to fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden. With Task Force 151, McKnight ordered teams to locate and capture suspected pirates; supported hostage releases; and contributed to international coalition building on the high seas. McKnight serves as the narrator in his book, Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia, co-written with journalist Michael Hirsh. McKnight shares his own experiences, as well as insight from other counter-piracy experts, in a narrative so captivating that it would impress Robert Louis Stevenson himself.

The Human Side of Commercial Sailing and Pirate Hunting

Pirate Alley presents firsthand accounts of pirate hunting and the navigation of dangerous waters from the perspectives of naval officers and shipping professionals. From a naval perspective, McKnight describes both his overwhelming [End Page 151] satisfaction at a suspected pirate’s capture, as well as his frustration over the systemic flaws in international law and government structures that allow piracy to flourish. For example, McKnight references the widely used practice of “catch and release,” where suspected pirates are caught guilty only to be set free for lack of evidence. He also notes Task Force 151’s inability to accommodate suspected pirates before they could be handed over to law enforcement on land. As a result of these systemic flaws, potential pirates can be confident that even if they are caught, they will likely be released, thus encouraging continued incidents of piracy. Furthermore, the bureaucratic chain of command is often frustrating to commanders, as they must wait hours or days for a capture operation to receive the necessary approval—sometimes from sources as high as the president.

Nevertheless, pirate hunting has rewarding moments, as well. McKnight shares a particularly satisfying occasion: After the crew of a cargo ship prevented a group of suspected pirates from boarding, Task Force 151 pursued the pirates for hours, and finally dispatched a team of specialists in body armor to board the pirates’ boat and take them into custody. Sailors also have a unique opportunity to conduct what McKnight describes as “chopstick diplomacy,” introduced in Chapter 11 of the book, in which commanders of different nationalities invite each other to their ships without questioning whether such invitations are politically appropriate under the current administration. Finally, McKnight notes the fulfillment he derives from helping hostages through their captivity and finally seeing them released.

Pirate Alley paints a fascinating picture of commercial sailing from a shipping professional’s point of view, as well. McKnight introduces an ongoing debate related to the adequate level of investment in a ship’s security to prevent a pirate attack: Should a shipping company hire armed guards, train its crew in pirate attack drills, install razor wire along the ship’s deck, turn its fire hoses into chemical-carrying anti-piracy weapons, or upgrade its ships so they include a citadel in which the crew can take refuge in the case of a pirate boarding? Concerns about crew safety...


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pp. 151-154
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