Belmont Club

The negotiations for Captain Phillips

The NYT describes the state of play.

Negotiations over the American captain taken hostage by Somali pirates broke down on Saturday, according to Somali officials, after American officials insisted that the pirates be arrested and a group of elders representing the pirates refused.

Somali officials said the American captain, Richard Phillips, and the four heavily armed pirates holding him hostage remained in a covered lifeboat floating in the Indian Ocean about 30 miles off Gara’ad, a notorious pirate den in northeastern Somalia.

The negotiations broke down hours after the pirates fired on a small United States Navy vessel that had tried to approach the lifeboat not long after sunrise Saturday in the Indian Ocean. … the vessel returned to a nearby Navy destroyer, the Bainbridge, after the pirates fired warning shots in the air, according to an American military official. … Mr. Abdul Aziz said that the Americans insisted that the pirates be handed over to Puntland authorities, and the elders refused. By noon local time, the Americans cut off communications with the elders, he said.

What happens next is a matter for conjecture. The men, both captors and captives, cannot remain in the lifeboat forever. One unrecognized element in this drama is the media. The international coverage given to the crisis and the involvement of “elders” has introduced a political factor into the equation. “Face” is now involved, and this may complicate any resolution. Now the crisis not only has to be resolved, but resolved in a way that the politicians can present as a victory. Let’s all hope for the safe return of Captain Phillips and end to the situation which allowed the pirate threat to arise without similarly empowering merchantmen to evade or defend themselves.