Until four Americans died after they were captured by Somali raiders, most nations considered pirates a nuisance, NPR reports. The world’s navies catch and release hundreds of pirates off the African coast every year, and no one has worried too much about it. The killings represent a new level of violence in the thriving high seas enterprise. Fifteen pirates are in custody in the incident, many of them headed to the U.S. to face criminal charges. Experts say that may be the worst option in fighting the piracy problem.
Nikolas Gvosdev, who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College, said the killings could be a “9/11 moment,” like when passengers and airlines decided they had to fight back against hijackers. “The question is whether or not we’ve reached that tipping point in the waters off Somalia, where shipping companies and governments and the public say we can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. What has to be done is the subject of a review by the Obama administration, and debate in the military and legal communities. Governments worked together to stamp out privacy more than a century ago, only to see it return in full force, says lawyer David Rivkin. “We’re talking about something that’s come back,” Rivkin says. “It’s like a disease that’s been virtually eradicated, that [has] sprung back and is just spreading like wildfire.” He says international cooperation is the solution, and has called on the U.N. Security Council to create a special tribunal to handle pirates.