"Captain Kidd, Human-Rights Victim":

John Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas, has more on Britain's new approach to piracy.

On April 11, French commandos went in with guns blazing and captured a gang of pirates who days earlier had hijacked a luxury cruise ship, the Ponant, and held the crew for ransom. This was the French solution to a crime wave that has threatened international shipping off Somalia; those of us who have been on the business end of a pirate’s gun can only applaud their action.

The British government on the other hand, to the incredulity of many in the maritime industry, has taken a curiously pathetic approach to piracy. While the French were flying six of the captured pirates to Paris to face trial, the British Foreign Office issued a directive to the once vaunted Royal Navy not to detain any pirates, because doing so could violate their human rights. British warships patrolling the pirate-infested waters off Somalia were advised that captured pirates could claim asylum in Britain and that those who were returned to Somalia faced beheading for murder or a hand chopped off for theft under Islamic law.

According to Burnett, Britain's approach is not so popular (at least not with those threatened by pirates.

The British fear of breaching the human rights of pirates has not gone down well in the maritime community. Andrew Linington, the spokesman for Nautilus, a British-Dutch seafarers trade union, has called the Foreign Office’s policy “a get out of jail card” for pirates.

“We despair,” Mr. Linington told me. “We are meant to be a major maritime country. The U.K. is heavily dependent on maritime trade — 95 percent of trade comes and goes by sea. Yet the Foreign Office has its head in the sand. It is just wishing the problem would go away.”

The British attitude has come a long way since the days when pirates were chained to pilings at Wapping and left there until the tidal water of the Thames ebbed and flowed over the bodies three times. So much for Britannia ruling the waves.