Pirate Alley: Commanding Task Force 151 Off Somalia


Named a "Notable Naval Book of 2012" by Proceedings Magazine

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...

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Named a "Notable Naval Book of 2012" by Proceedings Magazine

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.

Pirate Alley 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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An excellent must-read for anyone about to deploy on anti-piracy operations (and for politicians and diplomats who ought to know about the practical aspects of dealing with pirates."

-- Warships International Fleet Review

"Retired Rear Admiral Terry McKnight and Michael Hirsh have written a book about Somali piracy that is both of topical interest and designed to provide a lasting influence on future policy for the United States, that is both intensely personal as well as wide-ranging in its examination, and that manages to be a thorough account of one man's time commanding in a volatile region of the world as well as short and easy-to-read. Anyone who has an interest in naval policy, is concerned about logistics and shipping worldwide, or has an interest in the rise of China and India or of armed merchantmen and the potential for mercenary activity in dangerous waters, or wants to be cured of the romance of piracy in the modern world should read this most excellent book. Fortunately, the skill of the authors and the seriousness of the subject, as well as the gripping nature of the book's contents and its many varied and detailed accounts, should ensure a wide and appreciative audience…The combination of brevity as well as striking detail makes this book enjoyable for an audience that includes naval history buffs as well as people interested in questions of logistics, trade, and naval policies, and this book deserves to be read and pondered by that wide audience."

-- Naval Historical Foundation

"Together with Michael Hirsh [McKnight] presents an authoritative look at the problem [of piracy] and offers potential solutions to the problem and how best to equip ships traveling through high-risk areas."

-- Ocean Navigator

"McKnight provides a useful history of pirate activities and efforts to stop them. Particularly interesting are his interactions with the Chinese and Russian naval forces that were participating in the campaign… [and] the lengthy account of the pirate capture of the container ship Maersk Alabama and the subsequent rescue of her captain, Richard Phillips…. Pirate Alley is a valuable look at this interesting and important subject."

-- Proceedings, January 2013

"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."

-- Pirates and Privateers

"Pirate Alley, co-written with journalist Michael Hirsh, is a very readable yet authoritative introduction to the subject. The authors explore every aspect of Somali piracy, from how the pirates operate to how their actions have impacted the world economy. They examine various attempts to solve the problem, including placing armed guards aboard merchant ships, and highlight the best ways to outfit ships for travel through high risk areas. It's an interesting and important book!"

-- NavyFiction.com

"[McKnight's] well-crafted memoir reveals just how complex, difficult, and frustrating antipiracy operations can be."

-- Military Officer

"This intriguing book deals with a subject that should be scrutinized closely by U.S. authorities if piracy is to be curtailed so that ships can travel freely without being molested by seagoing criminals." -- Military Heritage, July 2013

"The authors have produced an entertaining yet businesslike book that exposes the good, the bad and yes, the ugly story of the international effort against piracy on the high seas. It's not quite Terry and the Pirates, but it's close enough."

-- Portland Book Review

"The fight against the Somali pirates grabbed the world's attention: it has certainly grabbed the attention of the world's navies, none more so than the U.S. Navy's. It was among the first to deploy ships off the Somali coast and to form a dedicated task force, CTF-151, to curtail the pirates' actions. RADM McKnight was the first commander, and he tells his story--and the pirates' story--well. His recommendations for how we can end this powerful challenge to world trade deserve a wide audience. This is an account that anyone seriously interested in Somali piracy needs to read."

--Martin N. Murphy, senior fellow, Atlantic Council of the United States

"A fascinating and engaging sea story set in the Gulf of Aden and skillfully told by a Navy warrior who led Task Force 151 against the Somali pirates. The book carefully documents the most recent chapter of the Navy's war without end against those who highjack and kidnap. It is a vivid reminder of the critical importance of U.S sea power to the free flow of commerce."

--Michael Phelps, publisher, The Washington Examiner

"Admiral McKnight's valuable book is a frontiersman's account of a maritime Wild West. He puts readers on the flying bridge for an up-close view of the fight against modern piracy on the world's unfriendly seas. His difficult mission would be all too familiar to Stephen Decatur and his captains, and to the lieutenants of the old China Station."

--James D. Hornfischer, author of Neptune's Inferno

"Piracy off the coast of Somalia poses a significant challenge to the international community. In just the last five years, Somali pirates have hijacked more than 175 commercial vessels and taken more than 3,000 of their crew members hostage along one of the world's busiest and most vital shipping corridors, potentially disrupting both regional trade and the global supply chain. Moreover, links have emerged between the pirates and transnational criminal networks and terrorist groups, which give cause for even greater concern. Unlike the armchair analysts and pundits--many of whom have pontificated about this threat without ever having set foot anywhere near Somalia, much less ever encountering a Somali pirate--Rear Adm. Terry McKnight has chased the marauders on the high seas and brought some to justice as commander of an unprecedented international task force to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. However, Pirate Alley is more than the memoir of a tour of duty; it is a comprehensive, but accessible, introduction to an important security issue and has the merit of offering practical policy guidance. . . . Highly recommended."

-- J. Peter Pham, director, Michael S. Ansari Africa Center, Atlantic Council, and editor in chief, The Journal of the Middle East and Africa

"Terry McKnight brings unparalleled experience and exceptional insight to bear on how the Navy can better address the modern piracy issue. Nor does he rest on his laurels; he addresses the issue with comprehensive research and interviews, as well as an open mind, as he looks at all the options. He offers ideas and solutions, and then backs them with well-considered reasoning. A must-read for anyone struggling with this complex issue."

--Doug Brooks, president of the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA)

"Pirate Alley is a compelling read that vividly shows how difficult it is to deal with the situation in the seas off Somalia. For the first time we hear from a pirate hunter and see the pride of those sailors serving under him, from a variety of navies. But there is also frustration from those like McKnight who must grapple with government bureaucracies, political interference, and commercial indifference to the plight of thousands of people."

--Daniel Sekulich, author of Terror on the Seas: True Tales of Modern Day Pirates and Ocean Titans

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612511344
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2012
  • Pages: 233
  • Sales rank: 787,949
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Rear Admiral Terry McKnight, USN (Ret.) is a thirty-one year veteran of the U.S. Navy who, as a Surface Warfare Officer, rose to command the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship carrying nearly 3,000 sailors and Marines. He was selected to serve as the first commander of Combined Task Force 151, a multi-national unit formed to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden. He currently lives in Fairfax Station, Virginia with his wife of over thirty years and two wonderful sons.

Michael Hirsh is a journalist who has produced documentaries and specials for PBS, CBS, ABC and HBO. He's received the Peabody Award, a Writers Guild Award, and multiple Emmy Awards. Among his television specials are "Memories of M*A*S*H" for CBS, "A Program for Vietnam Veterans--and everyone else who should care" for PBS, and a five program PBS series for on the prevention of child sexual abuse. He's written six non-fiction books, including None Braver--US Air Force Pararescuemen in the War on Terror, and The Liberators--America's Witnesses to the Holocaust. He and his wife, Karen, live in Punta Gorda, Florida.

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Table of Contents

Foreword Jim Miklaszewski ix

Preface xiii

Prologue xv

Chapter 1 Rules of Engagement 1

Chapter 2 Finally, Terry Meets the Pirates 7

Chapter 3 Piracy 101 35

Chapter 4 Best Management Practices 58

Chapter 5 Should Merchant Ships Be Armed? 73

Chapter 6 Crime without Punishment 87

Chapter 7 To Pay or Not to Pay 106

Chapter 8 Attack on the Maersk Alabama 118

Chapter 9 Hostage in the Lifeboat 132

Chapter 10 The Rescue of Captain Phillips 147

Chapter 11 Chopstick Diplomacy on the High Seas 164

Chapter 12 Strategy and Tactics 184

Chapter 13 A Course to Steer 198

Acknowledgments 217

Index 223

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