Todd Emerson Hutchins

Structuring a Sustainable Letters of Marque Regime: How Commissioning Privateers Can Defeat the Somali Pirates

Piracy is a complex problem that threatens maritime safety and interferes with global commerce. Supported by networks of financiers and negotiators, Somali pirates viciously attack seafarers across expansive stretches of the Indian Ocean. Despite costly naval interventions, pirates continue to strike. Powerful nations from around the globe have been unsuccessful at stemming the problem because they have focused on capturing and prosecuting a relatively small number of seagoing pirates, while allowing pirate networks to operate with near impunity. To prevent future attacks, an effective and sustainable deterrence regime must be implemented to target the financiers and sophisticated kingpins who lead pirate networks.

This Comment examines a new approach based on an age-old solution-privateers. The U.S. Constitution expressly provides that Congress, by issuing letters of marque, can enable private entities to conduct maritime warfare on behalf of the nation. Successive generations of American governments have employed letters of marque to combat maritime threats efficiently. Once more, the commissioning of privateers might prove to be an appropriate tool in the battle to dismantle pirate networks. Given the dispersed nature of the problem and relatively limited capabilities of the pirates, this Comment argues that privateers may provide a more cost effective and sustainable approach than deploying naval forces. It suggests how a new regime for deploying  privateers against Somali pirates could and should be established consistent with international law under either international or domestic