Modern Day Pirates, No Kidding Matter (Updated)

NYTimes by Matt Rota

Update (April 10, 2009): Almost a year after it was originally published, the below post continues to receive considerable traffic, especially after the pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama and the kidnapping of Captain Richard Philips by Somali pirates.

As of this update the situation remains incredibly tense with reports of a failed escape attempt by Captain Philips around midnight last night and automatic gunfire from the pirate commandeered lifeboat. There are also reports of several previous hijacked ships with a large number of international hostages are steaming to the standoff area in an effort to “rescue” the drifting pirates and move Captain Philips ashore in order to secure ransom.

In the year since this post was originally published, little has been done to try to solve this very serious problem. In fact, the situation has gotten much worse with Somalia pirates getting more experience, becoming bolder in their tactics and raising the stakes considerably. What until now has for the most part been larceny on a large scale, now teeters on becoming much worse.

It’s impossible to imagine the nightmare that Captain Philips and his family are currently enduring; our thoughts and prayers go out to them. We hope that the international community will finally begin to treat the Somali pirate problem with the attention that it deserves. International mariners should not continue to risk their lives while the world stands by waiting for the problem to somehow mysteriously solve itself. Like so many issues in the world today, where’s the real leadership?

Related posts: High Drama, High Stakes, High Seas – The Maersk Alabama Pirate Attack and The Maersk Alabama Pirate Attack from a Unique Perspective

Original Post (April 20, 2008)

While Captains Feathersword and Jack Sparrow may present a friendly face to piracy through kids TV and blockbuster movies, the reality is that modern day pirates are no kidding matter. Make no mistake about it, pirates range from petty thieves to ruthless terrorists but in the end they are all dangerous criminals.

John S. Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas wrote an interesting Op Ed essay for today’s – April 20, 2008 – Sunday NY Times entitled Captain Kidd, Human-Rights Victim. Please read it.

Burnett compares France’s recent show of force in successfully handling the hijacking of the French luxury cruise ship Ponant off the coast of Somalia to the British Foreign Office’s directorate to the Royal Navy not to detain any pirate because doing so would violate human rights. Pirates can claim UK asylum – The Sunday Times (UK) April 13, 2008.

High seas piracy remains a big problem for mariners around the world. Here’s a link to the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Maritime Bureau’s Weekly Piracy Report which demonstrates the frequency, seriousness and breadth of this issue. Below you will find their 2008 High Risk Areas. (Click here for direct access to map.)

Piracy attacks map_1208708119171

It’s difficult to understand and tough to swallow the British Foreign Office’s position on piracy. It’s doubtful that a similar position has been established for would be airline hijackers or subway bombers. Why would a current sea power who in previously eras worked so hard at eradicating piracy across the globe express a position that appears to go soft on contemporary pirates (aka terrorists)?

I’m all for protecting human rights, but this doesn’t send the right message to the good men and women who sail the seas advancing maritime commerce or other important global interests.

Related post: Pirates Invade Wall Street Journal! (Nov. 19, 2008 )

Artwork: Matt Rota for NY Times

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Peter A. Mello

Husband, father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

One thought on “Modern Day Pirates, No Kidding Matter (Updated)”

  1. Piracy – Part of the Solution?
    23 – December – 2010
    More and more owners are turning to the use of private security company supplied armed guards to help provide a safe passage for their vessels against acts of piracy. In the seas off Somalia, in spite of the best efforts of multinational navies piracy continues (weather permitting) unabated. It will be said that such owners are taking the law into their own hands. However, with little else being done to end the scourge, they are acting to protect the well being of their companies and at the same time those they totally rely on to run their commerce.

    In spite of this huge menace and threat to the general wellbeing of society and to seafarers in particular, the world’s leaders are content to continue with weak semantic political platitudes that only result in bolstering piracy attacks and swelling the coffers of the “Mr. Bigs” behind them.

    The almost instantaneous release of suspects allows them back into the fold, armed with both more experience and weapons, rejoining the packs of seaborne jackals to prey yet again on unarmed merchant vessels and their largely unprotected seafarers. Release because of “lack of evidence” or unwillingness to prosecute against apprehended suspects is commonplace and disheartening to both the captors and those they are there to protect.

    Consider post 9/11 2001. Captured terrorist suspects, were consigned and held in what is now considered to be somewhat infamous, Guantanamo. A pre election promise of the world’s most powerful president was to close it down, yet half way through his term, it has not happened, why? He has come to realize that those still held there really do pose a serious threat to all of humankind. Thus, it remains in service, in spite of ill-informed whimpering “do-gooders,” baying to protect violators of society. Yet, they do nothing to protect the common sense rights of those innocents made to suffer at the cruel hands of those who most foully prey on them.
    Face Of Shipping’s George Hoyt has voiced the idea of using prison ships to hold pirates and suspects to prevent them from continuing to practice their evil art. Sadly, there does not seem to be such a vessel currently on the market.

    Let the world, led by the Industry call on the United Nations Security Council to raise an emergency resolution, (they have the power, but do they have the will?) to charter an accommodation vessel or vessels if need be to serve as an international facility. Detention of pirates and suspects, at least the Somali based ones, would easily become possible. Mind you, they would enjoy much more comfortable conditions than they afford to their innocent captives. Such vessels may need modification but if common sense prevails, this need not be extensive.

    It would certainly prevent those experienced in piracy returning home to flaunt their wealth. With this, realization that no longer pirate action groups get released and free to roam with impunity would sink in.

    How many participate in acts of piracy, perhaps six hundred to one thousand or so? This small number humiliates the multinational navies who openly admit (given the constraints they operate under) cannot end the problem.

    On one hand, it we hear that there are hundreds waiting for the chance to be part of a pirate action group. On the other, those villagers and ex fishermen who persuaded or forced to be the public face of wonton piracy consider it as bad. By not allowing perpetrators to return, the resolve of those who are against it will be reinforced. Also by removing the experienced elements of piracy, any inexperienced ones will be easier to capture and less able to effect seizure of a vessel.
    This will not be a total solution to the problem but as part of it, it will go a long way towards protecting an innocent hard working and professional element of society that goes about its business mostly unseen and unheralded. What has the YEAR OF THE SEAFARER done for them?

    There is a joint industry anti piracy petition still open, sign up now and ask others to do so at- http://www.itfseafarers.org/petition.cfm

    On world maritime day, after only four months, some 920,000 signatories to it were presented to the IMO Secretary General on 23 September 2010. A video of the handover is available for your viewing at http://www.youtube.com/user/FASTfaceofshipping#p/u/0/myW1DcWv6EM

    Finally, let us take some time out to remember those on board their vessels diligently serving the world’s needs and economy, particularly the six hundred and fifty plus, who, in performing their duty now languishing captives because of heinous acts of piracy.

    Jim Nicoll

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