Pirates? Try the Pompey-the-Great solution?
Piracy, it seems, has always been with us, and still is. Or, at least, as we've seen this last week, there are still people we don't like doing nasty things on the high seas with tragic consequences.
Exactly who is to count as a "pirate" as such will always remain a matter of opinion and dispute. for 'pirates' are no more objectively defined than 'terrorists'. To most of the world, after all, Sir Francis Drake was a dreadful pirate, to the British he still somehow manages to qualify as an 'explorer'.
But however you define them, the Romans had plenty of trouble with criminals sailing around the Mediterranean. It must sometimes have seemed hard to decide which was the greater danger of a sea voyage in antiquity: shipwreck or kidnapping by one of the many gangs of thugs looking to make quick money by getting ransom for the wealthy individuals they captured (or alternatively by selling them into slavery).
The most famous victim of this was the young Julius Caesar, who fell into pirate hands in the 70s BC. The story of this crime was almost certainly later embellished to make it a nice prequel of Caesar's later character and career. It is said that when the pirates told him that they were going to demand 20 talents ransom money (a hefty sum), Caesar replied that he was worth much more than that -- and insisted that they double it.
Some of his party went off to get the cash, leaving Caesar to live for a month or so with this captors. He is supposed to have treated them as servants, telling them not to make too much noise when he wanted to rest, making them listen to him practising his oratory, and threatening that when he was released he would have them crucified. When the ransom arrived, he was set free -- and indeed, in due course, he did crucify the lot of them.
But it was Caesar's great rival Pompey the Great who had greatest success against the pirates, with a rather more liberal approach.
By the early 60s BC, pirates had become such a menace to Mediterranean shipping that in 67 Rome gave Pompey a "special command" and vast resources to try to get rid of them. It was great opportunity for this general 'on the make' to demonstrate his military genius. So he divided the sea into separate operational regions and, using loyal subordinate officers, he swept the pirates off the waters in just a few months.
But Pompey was smart enough to realise that, unless they were given some other form of livelihood, they would soon be back. (This is basically the Afghanistan problem: if they don't make their money out of the poppy crop how ARE they going to survive.) So in a wonderful, early 'resettlement of offenders' initiative he offered the pirates small-holdings near the coast, where they could make an honest living for themselves.
In fact Servius, the late Roman commentator on the works of Virgil, was convinced that his poet had given one of these reformed characters a walk-on part in the Georgics (4, 125ff): a old man, living near Tarentum in South Italy, peacefully keeping bees, his days of piracy long behind him.
Might this not be a better solution than a shoot out for the Somali pirates?