Some pirates operating off the coast of Somalia use fast speedboats and relatively heavy weapons, such as shoulder-fired rockets. Fortunately, those who attacked a U.S. cruise liner this month had neither.
Somali pirates in small boats approached the ship, the M/S Nautica, as it was traveling through the Gulf of Aden. They fired rifles at the ship, but its captain increased speed and was able to outrun the pirates.
The Nautica would have been a rich prize for the modern buccaneers. It carried 656 passengers and 399 crew members. Had it been captured, it would have been the first U.S. vessel, to our knowledge, to be taken during the recent wave of pirate hijackings.
Dozens of vessels, including one supertanker, have been captured by the Somali pirates. Often, the ships' owners agree to pay hefty sums in ransom. Some ship owners reportedly have been negotiating with pirate leaders to pay regular sums in exchange for their ships being spared attacks.
Shades of the "tribute" payments made during the 18th and early 19th century to the Barbary Pirates of that era.
The new wave of piracy already was a concern for Americans, in part because the U.S. Navy is helping to patrol areas threatened by them. But the near-miss involving a U.S. cruise liner raises the stakes.
Decisive action needs to be taken against the pirates. It is unlikely that will happen during the remaining weeks of President Bush's administration. It is something President-elect Barack Obama needs to begin considering, however - before an American ship is hijacked by the pirates.