Wired Magazine’s most-recent print edition has an article entitled “Cutthroat Capitalism,” by Scott Carney. Carney’s discussion of Somali piracy is the best I’ve come across. The bottom line is that piracy on the high seas is not a problem for anyone. What is a problem is: 50% of the proceeds go to Islamic militant groups at war with us. In fact, pirates are the new suicide bombers—without the risk of death.
- Only 7.5 % of world shipping goes through the Suez Canal into the Gulf of Aden (the pirate’s waters).
- Of the ships sailing in Somali waters, only 2/10ths of a percent are successfully attacked by pirates.
- Because the problem is so insignificant, insurance companies find it less costly to pay ransoms than to insure armed guard forces on ships in the area.
According to Carney, the pirates are funded and armed by “financiers” (wealthy radical Islamists) through Somali tribal elders and land-based commanders and security guards. A mother ship launches the pirate attack squads. Once a ransom is taken, 50% of the proceeds goes to the financiers, 30% to the mother ship and pirates, 10% to the land-based security, and 10% to the elders.
There’s little risk to anyone involved—pirates and kidnap victims alike. In the year from April 2008 to April 2009, only 9 pirates died (5 killed by national navies and 4 by accident). More victims died (19), although the cause of death of 14 of those is unknown (they’re missing, presumed drowned, I suppose); 1 died as a result of a naval attack; 4 were killed by pirates. In addition, apparently the pirates are only able to extort ransom from Western shippers, so they automatically release African and Indian crews.
If Carney is correct, I have to wonder what the fuss was all about when the Maersk Alabama was captured earlier this year. Why didn’t the insurance company want to the pay the ransom? Is it possible that the American Navy need not really have gotten involved? Or was there something about the ship’s cargo and crew that made it unique?
At about the same time, a French boat was captured, and the French Navy attacked the pirates aboard it, too. The Tanit, though, was apparently a private yacht, and the pirates apparently didn’t understand the risk/benefit ratio. The French Navy killed them, along with the yacht’s owner (he may have been killed by the pirates—not sure about this) and skipper.
Now, however, the New York courts will be treated to the trial of one of the Somali pirates who attacked the Maersk Alabama unsuccessfully. Obviously, he and his crew were not good pirates. Good pirates tend to get away with it.
No one knows whether or not he’s really over 18, although the New York Daily News says the pirate’s father was contacted by the judge. The father apparently lied to the judge, but one has to assume the Somali father spoke English or had a good translator and that he was sufficiently proficient with numbers to be able to say exactly when his son was born (Somalia is not the world’s most literate or educated country—they don’t even have a native script—he didn’t have a birth certificate to check).
There’s hardly a presumption of innocence in this case. To claim a Somali youth who committed a crime on an American vessel is subject to American law and American rights seems a bit far-fetched to me. He will surely be found guilty by a jury who are not his peers and then be sent to prison for life at American taxpayer expense. (This is another jury I wouldn’t want to have to serve on.)
I must be missing something here. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights do not apply outside the U.S. Am I wrong? Yet the pirate was arrested by the F.B.I., not the Navy. And the F.B.I.’s charter is strictly American—they don’t police the rest of the world.
The U.S. Navy is charged with keeping the waterways safe for American vessels. And that’s what they did when the Maersk Alabama was captured. But it seems to me it’s the insurance companies that benefited, not American shipping, because all it meant was the insurers didn’t have to pay a ransom, which they wouldn’t have minded paying. And the arrest of the Somali pirate will not serve as a warning to other pirates: piracy is still the best way to make a living in Somalia.
A side note on Carney’s interesting article: He claims that private security contractors serve primarily as liaisons between the shippers and the pirates. Their role is not to protect ships but to see to it that no one is killed during a pirate attack and that the pirates or crew don’t destroy the ship in the process. (Of course, all I know about this comes from a Wired Magazine article. Who knows where the truth lies in this case?)
Sounds like a plot from John Le Carre, doesn’t it?