U.S. Navy’s disastrous 2011 liberation of a Taiwanese fishing ship from Somali pirates lands in Maryland federal court
Though Somali piracy on the high seas is on the wane, it’s been making for news and entertainment recently, with a World 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’s more chilling episodes.
While the economic costs are attributed to the pirates’ lawless conduct, the U.S.-led response has also entailed tragic losses – 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’s 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’s 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’s 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 “violated a score of directives” while engaging the pirates. Rather than use “inert ordinance” to warn the pirates, for instance, its “starkly disproportionate” use of “high explosive rounds,” “an anti-aircraft gatling gun,” and “inaccurate manually controlled weapons from 1000 yards or more violated the rules.”
As for the Navy’s subsequent sinking of the Jih Chun Tsai 68, Shea says in the complaint that the ship “was, in fact, seaworthy after the surrender of the pirates.” The “appeals of the surviving … crewmembers” to let them retake control of the ship were ignored, and the decision to sink it “was unauthorized and irrational,” Shea writes, adding that the Navy “later set the suspected pirates free without ever arranging for any trial or other judicial proceedings.”
Thus, rather than judging the pirates’ conduct in criminal court, instead the Navy’s actions will be judged in civil court, and the defense costs of the legal battle – and possibly large monetary judgment – will be borne by U.S. taxpayers.