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The History of Maritime Piracy

Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Nonfiction

Cover Art: Pirate Alley
Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 off Somalia
Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, USN (Ret.), and Michael Hirsh
Naval Institute Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61251-134-4, $29.95


They will not shoot at me. I will get their money. And no one will arrest me. It’s a good job. – Vice Admiral William Gortney, Commander U.S. Fifteen Fleet, summarizing the mantra of Somalia pirates (3)
On 9 January 2009, Somali pirates released the MV Sirius Star and her crew of twenty-five after payment of a $3,000,000 ransom. This very large crude carrier, transporting 2.2 million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia to the United States, had been captured 450 miles off the coast of Africa the previous November. One day before her release, the U.S. Navy announced the formation of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151). Rear Admiral Terry McKnight was assigned to command this international team of naval vessels in the fight against piracy in the Gulf of Aden (also known as Pirate Alley).

Somali pirates in small skiffs with AK-47s seize vessels, detain the crew, and demand exorbitant ransoms in exchange for the seafarers, the ships, and the cargo. The reward is high and the risk is low, since many captured pirates are often released rather than being tried, convicted, and imprisoned. Pirate Alley details how CTF 151 counters these pirates and explains the difficulties faced in bringing them to justice, as well as the changes shipping companies are making to secure their vessels and crews that transit this dangerous corridor.

The book opens with a foreword by Jim Miklaszewski, a Pentagon correspondent for NBC News, who spent time with McKnight aboard the Vella Gulf. In the preface McKnight explains why he wrote this book, while the prologue discusses the taking of MV Danica White in 2007 – an incident which forced “the U. S. Navy to get about Somali piracy”. (xv) The subsequent thirteen chapters cover a variety of topics related to piracy and counterpiracy.
Rules of Engagement
Finally, Terry Meets the Pirates
Piracy 101
Best Management Practices
Should Merchant Ships Be Armed?
Crime without Punishment
To Pay or Not to Pay
Attack on the Maersk Alabama
Hostage in the Lifeboat
The Rescue of Captain Phillips
Chopstick Diplomacy on the High Seas
Strategy and Tactics
A Course to Steer (A Global Force for Commerce, Let’s Form a Posse, and Ransoms – It’s All about the Money)
Maps, interviews with experts on Somalia and Somali piracy, charts, and photographs enhance the text. The index makes it easy to quickly locate needed material.

Pirate Alley is a frank, no-holds-barred examination of Somali piracy from the perspective of an insider tasked with fighting this scourge. “I saw pirates up close, saw the havoc they raised and the economic, emotional, and physical toll they took.” (35) In addition to McKnight’s personal assessments and evaluations, his inclusion of perspectives from authoritative people for whom the study of Somali piracy is a day-to-day occupation provides a wealth of information not readily found in other books on this topic. Pirate Alley is fascinating, insightful, down-to-earth, and written in terms a lay person unfamiliar with law, piracy, or the navy can easily comprehend.

Read an excerpt

Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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