Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why Pirates Don’t Say “Arghh” Anymore

Somali pirates have seized a tanker full of crude oil, and journalists around the world are having a field day speculating about what the buccaneers might eventually do with the contraband cargo. Some writers have even found an analogy in the classic joke about the big dog who chases cars until he actually catches one. What do you do with it when you’ve got it? The truth is that, although piracy is as old as sea travel, it has never been an organized operation with a strategic marketing plan for maximizing profits from the booty. Those Somali pirates don’t plan to sell the oil anymore than a carjacker plans to put the stolen vehicle on Craigslist or eBay. The pirates will simply leave the ship and take with them all the cash and laptop computers on board, as well as some food and liquor from the galley. For them, it has been nothing more than an elaborate joyride. This is what happens off the coast of Somalia where the unemployment rate for the young Muslim men is 55%.

My wife and I actually have some firsthand experience with piracy on the high seas. We routinely ride as passengers on freighter ships around the world, and since freighters are almost always the chosen target of piracy, we’ve personally seen how the drama plays out. Freighter crews don’t carry weapons on board, and most shipping companies have instructed their personnel to not offer any resistance if the ship is boarded. There are, however a few preventative measures that can be taken. Fire hoses can be deployed to be used as water cannons, and bright lights are sometimes lowered over the side at night so that anyone approaching the ship in the dark will be unable to see anything up on deck above the bright light. Recently, some freighters and almost all cruise ships have been armed with acoustic cannons which can incapacitate a human being a mile away with a non-lethal beam of sound. What makes modern piracy such a one sided conflict, however, is that light munitions have become so deadly, and so widely available to the pirates. A water cannon or sound gun isn’t much of a match for an AK-47 or an RPG launcher. And when pirates strike, closing on a freighter simultaneously from several directions in high speed motorboats, everything happens in an instant, and pirates don’t say “Arghh” anymore because there isn’t much time for small talk.

1 comment:

J.D. & MaryAnn Longwell said...

Holy cow, dear cousin, your life has taken MANY interesting twists and turns since we last spoke (probably sometime in the 1880s.. er, I mean 1980s). I always knew you were a true adventurer and swashbuckler to the core. Can't wait to read your book. A long lost longwell...