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Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia

Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, USN (Ret.) served as Commander, Counter-Piracy Task Force-Gulf of Aden. He wrote the first draft of the Navy’s handbook on fighting piracy while serving as the initial commander of Combined Task Force 151, an international effort to deploy naval vessels from several nations in a manner designed to prevent piracy in the Gulf of Aden and farther out into the Indian Ocean. McKnight personally commanded operations that disrupted several hijackings in progress, and resulted in the capture of sixteen Somali pirates. That’s when he ran head-on into the bizarre U.S. policy of catch-and-release, and realized that there’s a lot more to fighting piracy than just catching some skinny youngsters armed with AK-47s and RPGs.

After his tour in the waters off the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, he retired from the Navy and began seriously researching the subject. As a result, he and his co-author, journalist Michael Hirsh, have put together a very readable book that serves as a comprehensive introductory course on the subject. Pirate Alley includes a behind-the-scenes look at the SEAL Team 6 takedown of the pirates who had kidnapped Captain Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama. It also reveals what a young Ph.D. candidate from Duke University found during three months on the ground in Somali pirate villages.

Pirate Alley explores every aspect of Somali piracy, from how the pirates operate to how the actions of a relative handful of youthful criminals and their bosses have impacted the world economy. The book examines various answers to the question “How do you solve a problem like Somalia?” It explores the debate over the recently adopted practice of putting armed guards aboard merchant ships, and focuses on the best management practices that are changing the ways that ships are outfitted for travel through what’s known as the High Risk Area. Readers will learn that the consequence of protecting high quality targets such as container ships and crude oil carriers may be that pirates turn to crime on land, such as the kidnapping of foreigners.

The work also focuses on the worldwide economic impact of piracy, noting that despite claims that piracy is costing as much as $13 billion a year, one of the largest commercial shipping companies argues that over-reaching national and international shipping regulations have a significantly greater negative effect on the world’s economy than does piracy.

In the book’s conclusion, McKnight contends that, in the interest of justice, nations need to beef up their ability to prosecute and imprison captured pirates. And that the United States has no choice but to continue to hew to a policy that was first stated in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution: The Congress shall have Power…to define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations.

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Tony Heimer, CAPT, USN (Ret) says:

Pirate Alley I see there is also a novel by Stephen Coonts with the same title. Not to take anything away from Mr. Coontz as I am an avid fan, but RDML Terry McKnight has done a great job of explaining the successes and challenges of the developed world in combating the current threat of Somali piracy in the Indian Ocean. The Admiral is a straight-shooter and most willing to provide his opinions, even when they might be viewed as controversial in today’s “politically correct” world. Some of his…

J. E. Smith says:

piracy primer I have a hard time reading books by professional military people because they often get tangled up in details and use a lot of confusing, alphabet-soup acronyms. That’s not really the case here, although the retired Navy admiral who wrote “Pirate Alley” (with a journalist’s help)certainly gives you a factual, basic textbook on how dirtbag Somali pirates operate.It turns out they are both sophisticated and stupid – they’re well-financed and organized by gangs in Somalia, but the drugged-up…

Leslie Holland says:

Fascinating Read! Reading this book as a civilian with no military background, the only knowledge I’d had on this subject were the nightly newscasts that had segments dedicated to the pirate attacks.This book allows you in a sense to be the fly on the wall and feel like you were in the room during the very discussions shaping the outcome of thease attacks. The ability to see how the US maneuvered through some of these difficult times and to even hear an actual recording really puts you in the…

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