Thursday, April 16, 2009

modern piracy


three years ago in my old job, realizing that piracy was on the rise off west africa, i had a course commissioned for the crews in our large fleet. it was a course on what to do in the event of a piracy attack. we created a combination of classroom and eLearning. senior officers would attend the classroom portion of the course, which was taught by psychologists and security specialists and then everyone onboard the vessels could do the eLearning. we felt it was important for people placed in such an extreme situation to be equipped to handle it. the stress and adrenalin and fear of such a situation are enormous. originally, the course was aimed at crews on offshore support vessels that take supplies out to offshore oil rigs, but was later expanded to the liner vessels on the west african trades.

even as recently as three years ago, inside and outside the industry, you didn't hear much about the piracy incidents that occurred off nigeria and in and around lagos and port harcourt. mostly because the oil companies kept them quiet so as not to encourage even more pirates from flocking there and increasing the frequency of attacks.  you still don't hear much about piracy in west africa, but we are certainly hearing about east african piracy these days.


pirates these days aren't romantic swashbuckling figures like captain jack sparrow. they're poor, desperate and increasingly organized africans from countries without functional governments--e.g. somalia. they're armed to the teeth both with weapons and desperation, which makes for a frightening combination. when people have nothing to lose, they can become quite daring, as we've seen in recent months...with a saudi supertanker and a ukrainian bulker loaded with guns and ammunition being taken and the attempt in the past week to take the maersk alabama, which was loaded with UN aid bound for mombasa.

but now that an american flagged ship with an american crew onboard has been involved in a piracy attack, a situation that's been escalating for months is suddenly in the spotlight. the situation was worsening prior to this, with attacks getting more and more daring and pirates ranging farther and farther out to sea, but it took americans being involved for anyone to seriously discuss doing something about it. why is that?

here in denmark, noises have been made about doing something about the situation and the danish naval vessel absalon only just returned this week to danish waters after leading an 8-month international mission to combat piracy in the region off east africa. the problem was that when absalon caught pirates in the act, there wasn't any way to prosecute them, so they generally took them ashore and let them go. no doubt they turned around, hopped in another boat and headed out after their prey once again. when ransoms as high as $25 million US are being paid by shipping companies for supertankers laden with 2 million barrels of crude oil, it's worth it to the pirates.


some shipping companies have rerouted their vessels around the cape horn rather than through suez, to reduce risk of attacks. they have assessed that the longer route is worth it in terms of the safety of crews and cargoes. with suez passages costing in the range of $150,000-200,000/per ship, this means decreased revenues for egypt and the possibility of further increasing poverty and desperation in the region. piracy has more knock-on effects than one at first realizes.

but, what can be done? and will something be done now that america's attention is focused on the issue? or will the undoubtedly heroic and brave capt. phillips just make the rounds of the talk shows and then there the issue will die.  it would seem to be a real opportunity for the international community to step up and unite to do something that's in everyone's interest, including the pirates. so far, they haven't actually harmed any crews in their piracy efforts, but it's surely only a matter of time...and all of the course preparation in the world isn't going to have been enough.

10 comments:

Molly said...

Great post. I've been reading reports on this for some time and wondering if/how it affects your work.
And as you say the worst thing about piracy, like all crime, everywhere, becomes the fear thereof and the associated lengths and expense people will go to to avoid possibly becoming victims. And so crime-ridden regions (and communities)become more isolated, more poor, more desperate and thereby produce more criminals.
Oi vey.

Jelica said...

I enjoyed reading your post--very thoughtful analysis.

This whole piracy issue reminds me of the problems with illegal migrants from Africa desperately trying to reach the shores of Europe. As you said, when people have nothing to lose they can be quite daring--you can always have better sea patrolling but I don't think that in itself will stem the flow (and same goes for piracy). Even if this particular problem does get solved, or at least put under control in the short run, in the longer term as long as there is such asymmetry in the distribution of wealth on the globe there will also be the Robin Hood style attempts to get a little bit of (perceived) Western pie.

julochka said...

molly--i didn't go into every detail here, but you're right that the lengths and expense that the shipping companies will go to just might cause the desperate people to go to greater and greater lengths...it's a difficult question and there aren't any easy solutions.

jelica--it is totally related to those boats of people coming across and trying to get into europe. and definitely stems from the uneven distribution of wealth on the globe...

as i see it (and i didn't really go into that, maybe another post for another day), this issue is a real opportunity for the international community to truly stand together and do something real about it--and it has to start ashore, not just by sending more destroyers out to patrol the waters. that'll just make the pirates more desperate and escalate the situation further. i have many more thoughts on this and will no doubt post them. :-)

It's Just Me said...

Just last night dearest asked why said pirates were so bad recently. I told him they weren't the spot light was on them now.

You are right the US Press is good about riding out a story until the public loses interest and then dropping it (like yesterdays news... couldn't resist)

I truly hope that it doesn't end there - as just a news story

Bill Stankus said...

As we continue to over-populate the globe and the variance between "haves" and "have nots" increases with more and more poverty - we will be seeing an escalation of piracy, kidnapping and other forms of extortion.

Char said...

though the harm to people and the high costs are horrible, I always worry what drives people to such desparate measures....I can only thank god that I was born in a land where I can get plenty.

Pattern and Perspective said...

Criminal behavior should never be condoned. Behaviors won't change in places where crimes are prevalent until it's people are changed...maybe. Until they are no longer poor, sickened, following ill leadership...

There will always be criminals, but you would think those who became pirates might not have been pirates if they had grown up somewhere other than Somalia or someplace similar. (nature vs nurture theory) Although, there are many who live in places as such who didn't become something. Is this something that can be changed or not -- I'm not sure.

hannahfaerie said...

Interesting blog post, I feel this is a very complex issue. Here is an article I read recently - http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about-pirates-1225817.html

Molly said...

I was just going to send you a link to the same article. I don't agree with it all, but it's always good to know someone's looking at both sides!

julochka said...

hannahfærie and molly--excellent piece in The Independent, thank you for sharing that! it's another angle on what i was actually trying to get at...that this is an extremely complex issue with compelling stories on all sides.