Pirates are a scourge of humanity who threaten, steal, rape, and murder on the high seas. In addition to the direct consequences of their actions, they also destroy the one thing that brings all humanity together in fraternity, commerce.

The right of self-defense

Under the natural law anyone whose life is under threat is entitled to defend themself. This is because when the officers of the law cannot be summoned in time, the law cannot claim to provide a satisfactory alternative. Nowhere is the absence of officers of the law so manifest as on the high seas. Accordingly laws, such as those of the United States, which prevent merchantmen from arming, are a gross breach of the natural law. They amount to trussing up the innocent and delivering them bound and gagged to murderers for slaughter.

Ships travelling in pirate-infested waters should be armed

As it is impossible for the authorities to escort every vessel traveling in pirate-infested areas, such as the coast of Somalia and the Strait of Malacca, vessels traversing these areas should be required to carry remote weapons platforms. There is a precedent for this in the requirement that ocean-going vessels carry radios, radar and other safety equipment.

Merchant ships, tankers, and cruise liners venturing into pirate-infested area such as the coast of Somalia and the Strait of Malacca could be outfitted with weapons platforms remotely controlled by the military. The military can assess telemetry from the ship (as they currently do from drone aircraft), give remote radio and loudspeaker warnings to approaching vessels, and if necessary fire missiles or activate close-in weapons systems to defend the ship.

Action by the navies

The current foppery with which civilized nations approach of piracy is partly due to a misguided desire to be humane. It is misguided because pirates, who murder, rape, and steal, do not deserve humane treatment. The following extract from the London Times illustrates the problem:

The Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights. Warships patrolling pirate-infested waters, such as those off Somalia, have been warned that there is also a risk that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain. The Foreign Office has advised that pirates sent back to Somalia could have their human rights breached because, under Islamic law, they face beheading for murder… .

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “There are issues about human rights and what might happen in these circumstances. The main thing is to ensure any incident is resolved peacefully” … . In the 19th century, British warships largely eradicated piracy when they policed the oceans. The death penalty for piracy on the high seas remained on the statute books until 1998. (London’s Times, April 13, 2008).

The Foreign Office is wrong on several counts. Firstly, no one should lament the fact that a pirate faces being beheaded—except perhaps to regret he is not flayed beforehand. Secondly, if pirates are tagged and released, someone will still be killed, but instead of it being a pirate it will be the pirate’s next victim. As for ‘conventions on human rights,’ these typically bear no resemblance to the natural law and should never be entered into in the first place. The navies of the world should open fire on pirates without first seeking their surrender and trust that their corpses washing ashore will send a clear message to kinsmen as to the error of their ways.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove