"If you were waiting for the opportune moment, that was it."


The handling of pirates has been always one of economic concern. A ship is captured and looted. Tough luck for the owners. End of story.

Today we worry about pirates for international security reasons -- more specifically, Somali pirates who ship arms to Islamic terrorists -- but the economic implications of a less-than-secure ocean remain largely unchanged.

When the Indian navy sinks what it deemed a pirate "mother ship," only to discover later that the gun-toting men on board were no more than Thai fishermen, it sends a chill to any sea industry. On the security side, if it is normal for fishermen to own and fire guns with RPGs, it is a chance for the United States and its allies to review the role of the Navy.

Moving for an international naval effort against pirates may seem less important than sending troops to Afghanistan. But with 75 percent of the world covered in water and with improvements in seafaring, the seas seem just as important of a security concern.

Fundamentally, the security of the seas is necessary for international trade. And international trade is exactly what the United States needs in its long-term plan out of this economic crisis. A bailout, even if successful, would only be the first step. A full recovery of the U.S. economy can only be complete when other major economies recover and reach out as trading partners.

Greater naval presence on the seas would also encourage responsible trade, as it would enable governments to hold companies accountable for their actions -- for example, cracking down on European and Asian companies that dump nuclear materials into Somali coastlines. Even if the companies may have paid for their "right" to dump, the rest of us pay a high price for those toxins, because they force Somali fishermen to choose between a life dependent on foreign aid and the life of a pirate.

If the United States and its allies are to be successful in the war against terrorism and in creating the environment for the safe exchange of goods, they must plug the holes in international security that are still open. The sea is just one such vacuum.

Yoshi Ludwig, Minneapolis, is a master's of public policy student at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.