Friday, September 08, 2006

Piracy on the High Seas - A Real Problem

Neo-Neocon has a post that started a discussion of pirates. As is usually the case when piracy is discussed, people decide it is a joke. But that is only ignorance of the facts, because most people don't think of death dealt wholesale as a joke.

When the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit was attacked in November of last year, some were disturbed that the term pirate was used. Their boats were too small, they weren't the pirates people thought of. (As if Erol Flynn's movies were real depictions of pirates.)

Well sad to say, but piracy is a real problem, costing shippers and yachties money and even taking lives every year. Last year people were happy that 2005 had fewer incidents than 2004, though this was mostly due to the interruption of activity in Indonesia as a direct result of the tsunami that hit Aceh. Though the year wasn't free of incidents. Somali pirates captured a UN aid vessel, and held its crew for ransom. Somalia remains a real danger area for piracy.

There is some hope of improvement. Reuters AlertNet - First WFP food aid ship arrives in Somali port of Mogadishu in more than a decade
A ship chartered by WFP docked yesterday in Mogadishu
This doesn't mean the problems are over in Somalia - in some ways they are just getting started.

A spate of pirate attacks in Somali waters in 2005 forced WFP to bring food aid to the drought-stricken south by road because shipping companies were unwilling to risk voyages to Somalia.

Two WFP-chartered ships were seized by pirates in 2005 and one escaped a pirate attack in March 2006. [via EagleSpeak]
While this shipment got through, other pirates are pursuing ships farther and father from the Somali coast.

Part of the problem of recognizing piracy as a threat is that modern pirates are not the vision we inherited from Hollywood. (What is?) The Strategy Page has info on How To Spot A Pirate
Boat Size: Most pirates, whether in the northwestern Indian Ocean, off Somalia, or in the region around the Straits of Malacca, are using relatively small boats, essentially the same size as used by the local fishermen. So if a couple of fishing skiffs try to approach you, watch out. And be especially careful if they're moving at a good clip. That's because ordinary fishermen are loath to open up their engines, since fuel is money. [hat tip Noonsite]
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, runs the Piracy Reporting Center. The center has made use of Google Maps track attacks worldwide. These are primarily attacks on merchant shipping and some of the megayachts. Smaller private boats mainly report incidents through Noonsite, though some reports make it through the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a few other organizations. Assuming they survive of course.

It is a big enough problem that companies have been created to address the risks, and I don't mean insurance companies. Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants, for example provide many levels of service. (If it wasn't a real problem, people wouldn't be spending money trying to solve it.)

Of course it is made infinitely worse by the fact that private ownership of arms is forbidden in so many countries and by so many companies. I hope that will change, but I really don't see much hope of it. So as is usually the case when guns are outlawed, only the outlaws have guns, and they have mostly fully automatic AK-47s and AK-74s and the odd rocket propelled grenade.

The left says "Just call 911," but of course on the high seas, there is no one to call, and in some countries the authorities may actually be a part of the problem. So do we hide at home in gated communities, and pretend the world (or that tiny segment we are willing to inhabit) is a safe place, or do we live life in spite of the risks?

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