As our few readers know, we've been covering piracy for some time on this blog. Our first post on the topic, in fact, took on the myth that European navies refused to enforce the law against pirates. Only now Robert Farley tells us that the Canadian and Dutch navies went ahead, captured pirates, and released them. Er?
Well, NATO is not the problem. It is true that NATO, which is not a sovereign state, does not have arrest powers. But the national navies operating under NATO command do have such powers. Now, I'd be happy with giving an international organization arrest powers, but I can see why some politicians might be reluctant to take that step. That said, the truth is that not only do national militaries have the power to arrest pirates on the high seas, since December they've had the ability to do the same thing anywhere in Somali territory, sea or land.
So if this and this story are correct, something isn't working. In the Dutch case, it seems to have been a low-level screw-up. Ships under European command have standing orders to turn captured pirates over to Kenya for prosecution and punishment; ships under NATO do not. There was a deputy from the justice ministry on board the Dutch ship (for precisely this reason), but whoever it was decided to let the pirates go. Parliament appears to be annoyed. At some point, I suppose, we'll find out who made the decision and why. We might even find that circumstances made it a wise choice. But it isn't Dutch policy, and it seems to be causing the government some headaches at home.
Canada seems to have a deeper problem. The Globe and Mail has deeply misinformed its readers by reporting, contrary to fact, that “Canadian sailors, like their NATO allies, lack the authority to make arrests in international waters.” Of course, the Globe and Mail is parroting what seems to be Ottawa's official line. After all, the Prime Minister said in Port-of-Spain that the Winnipeg did the right thing by releasing the pirates. “Those were the appropriate measures under the circumstances.” Elsewhere, a Canadian admiral alluded to mysterious legal difficulties. “There's the rule of law that needs to be applied, so we're not currently regularly detaining them, no. There are all kinds of challenges with that.”
Now, I can understand why a country would fear becoming a dumping ground for pirates ... but it isn't as though hundreds or thousands of them are being captured every year. Nor is organizing a piracy trial under normal criminal rules all that difficult. (And they have, by definition, been caught red-handed.)
So, Canadian readers, I ask you, what the hell?