Friday, April 10, 2009

Pirates of the Arabian

Pirates off the coast of Africa have attacked a cargo ship flying the U.S. flag and taken its captain hostage. The vessel, named the Alabama, is owned by Maersk Line Ltd., of Denmark. This was the sixth attempted seizure at sea in a week by pirates in the area where the rhinoceros horn of Africa tries to bump the bulge of Arabia. The attack on the Alabama was the second in two days. Captain Richard Phillips of Vermont ordered his crew of 20 to lock themselves in a room, but he permitted himself to be taken hostage in order to save the ship, which was reportedly carrying humanitarian food aid to Africa. Capt. Phillips tried to escape from his captors in view of the USS Bainbridge, only a few hundred yards away with rescue helicopters. He jumped off a lifeboat and began swimming, but the pirates opened fire with automatic weapons, and he returned to the lifeboat. FBI hostage negotiators are on board the Bainbridge.



Somali pirates have extorted tens of millions of dollars in ransoms on this busy highway for Asian manufactured consumer goods and Arab oil shipped from the Indian Ocean to the Arabian Sea to the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Often as few as four to eight armed pirates are all it takes to seize control of massive commercial vessels. Low-paid and under-trained merchant sailors have been told by ship owners to offer no resistance to avoid loss of life. Crews are unarmed by choice of ocean shipping businesses and insurance companies willing to pay ransoms rather than liability judgments in court.

I can hear the Marine Corps Hymn from my Daddy’s grave. He was a WWII Marine in the Pacific. “From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” Even before Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi, there was trouble along the Barbary Coast. Thomas Jefferson, while serving as U.S. Ambassador to France, had been involved in negotiations with Barbary Pirates, operatives of North African states in the Ottoman Empire. Upon Jefferson's inauguration as President in 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 to guarantee safe passage of U.S. ships. Jefferson refused. Two Barbary Wars followed, establishing the U.S. Navy as a military force to be reckoned with.

Today’s Pirates of the Arabian Sea are not part of anybody’s empire, except maybe the devil’s. Poverty, perpetual civil war, and the absence of any functioning governments have turned the waters around the Horn of Africa into a crime-infested malestrom. Somali pirates chase ships by speedboats and scale the ships' hulls using grappling hooks. They have typically anchored vessels off the coast and negotiated ransoms. These are not swishbuckling Johnny Depps. They are failed fishermen in beggars rags, fodder of Somali warlords, and criminal gangs that flourish in corrupt and disintegrated states like Somalia.

Copyright 2009 by William C. Cotter

3 comments:

Professor Staff said...

I must admit, it strikes me as bordering on the absurd that we have a lifeboat with 4 pirates and a hostage, surrounded by billion dollar ships and helicopters and thousands of sailors. And the best we can do is call in an FBI hostage negotiation team?

The best story I have heard here in DC is that it is a closed lifeboat with all the windows blocked. Sooner or later the sanitary conditions are going to force them out ...

Paw Paw Bill said...

The sanitary facilities in that lifeboat may be no worse than where the pirates come from. The absurdity, of course, is the way international policy and commerce allows itself to be at the mercy of the desperate. Any fool could imagine the solution to these problems is building a major shipping facility, port, docks, etc., with McDonalds and Wal-Marts in Somalia to occupy and pacify the populace.

luther said...

Looks like your father the WWII Marine Corps veteran will rest easy about this.

 

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