Though Somali piracy on the high seas is on the wane, it‚Äôs been making for news and entertainment recently, with aWorld Bank report¬†on its $18-billion-a-year cost to the global economy and the impending release of a new Tom Hanks movie,¬†Captain Phillips, that retells one of the problem‚Äôs more chilling episodes.
While the economic costs are attributed to the pirates‚Äô lawless conduct, the U.S.-led response has also entailed tragic losses ‚Äì including the life of Taiwanese fishing-ship captain Wu Lai-Yu and the sinking of his 90-foot-long ship, the¬†Jih Chun Tsai 68¬†(pictured), in May 2011.
Though a ransom deal had been struck and the pirates were expected to release the ship and crew soon, the U.S. Navy‚Äôs¬†USS Stephen W. Groves¬†moved to liberate it in the Indian Ocean. During the operation, which was subsequently excoriated for numerous violations of protocol in a Navy investigation, Lai-Yu was shot in the head and killed, and after it was over, the Navy inexplicably sank the still-viable ship.¬†Protests¬†in Taipei ensued.
Lai-Yu‚Äôs widow, Wu Tien Li-Shou, yesterday sued the U.S. government in Maryland federal court, demanding $9 million for claims of wrongful death and willful destruction.
Li-Shou‚Äôs attorney, Timothy B. Shea of the Washington, D.C., firm Nemirow Hu & Shea, includes in the complaint a summary of the findings of a Navy investigation of the incident, which he says concluded that the¬†U.S.S. Stephen W. Groves¬†‚Äúviolated a score of directives‚Äù while engaging the pirates. Rather than use ‚Äúinert ordinance‚Äù to warn the pirates, for instance, its ‚Äústarkly disproportionate‚Äù use of ‚Äúhigh explosive rounds,‚Äù ‚Äúan anti-aircraft gatling gun,‚Äù and ‚Äúinaccurate manually controlled weapons from 1000 yards or more violated the rules.‚Äù
As for the Navy‚Äôs subsequent sinking of the¬†Jih Chun Tsai 68, Shea says in the complaint that the ship ‚Äúwas, in fact, seaworthy after the surrender of the pirates.‚Äù The ‚Äúappeals of the surviving ‚Ä¶ crewmembers‚Äù to let them retake control of the ship were ignored, and the decision to sink it ‚Äúwas unauthorized and irrational,‚Äù Shea writes, adding that the Navy ‚Äúlater set the suspected pirates free without ever arranging for any trial or other judicial proceedings.‚Äù
Thus, rather than judging the pirates‚Äô conduct in criminal court, instead the Navy‚Äôs actions will be judged in civil court, and the defense costs of the legal battle ‚Äì and possibly large monetary judgment ‚Äì will be borne by U.S. taxpayers.