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Yes, like the rest of the world, I too have become OBSESSED with pirates. And while this is not necessarily a new thing with me, I am certainly gaining a new perspective. I am having to step away from the coolness of Johnny Depp and the rest of the slightly dirty, extremely interesting but definitely detrimental guys that I generally gravitate towards [this may be temporary…] and take a look at this from a new angle, certainly a more contemporary one.
What is it that has always been so appealing about pirates? The irreverence? The machismo? The wild spontaneity? The romance? Their love for all things cartographic? (Pirates were the first real advocates of a solid geographic education you know, I mean what kind of pirate would you be if you could not read a map??) All of that still sounds pretty good. But the pirates of my imagination did not carry automatic weapons and use the most high tech military equipment to accomplish their plundering and pillaging. Is it only me, or does that seem like cheating?
The situation has garnered so much media attention that I actually had to do a search for an article about the US elections the other day, it was buried under the pirate news (did you catch that one? It was buried? Heheh…) One of my favorite websites has become the International Chamber of Commerce Piracy Reporting Centre and in particular the Live Piracy Map. And since a Hong Kong ship was apprehended a couple of weeks ago, it has been big old news over here. Actually, there have been Malacca problems for a while, but it took the Somali situation to really get the whole issue on the map. I guess the Indonesians were just not quite pirate enough…
Now the question has become, WTF do we do about this? Obviously, we cannot just sit back and let this continue, can we? So, what is to be done? Do you go after the pirates themselves? Somehow try to safeguard the ships? Or is the world going to have to dig a little deeper on this one? (See, I did it again…)
I would suggest that there is no real mystery as to the rationale in the minds of these pirates. If you are dirt poor and have an opportunity to ride a zephyr raft out to a big old boat, point your gun at some strangers for a while and go home with US$30,000 you probably would. Hell, I know people who are NOT living in poverty who would do that. Is that a terrible thing? These pirates seem fairly polite in most cases and that is a LOT more than we can say for these big oil companies over the past decades, don’t you think?
Okay, I know that it is not cool to take stuff that is not rightfully yours by force. But, um…. it is not like that has not been going on since time immemorial.
But it is starting to get really messy now. There are requests for military involvement, security forces that will increase shipping and therefore consumer costs exponentially and even more broad based strife like Islamist fighters threatening to take on the pirates to free ships sailing under their flags. And something else akin to shapeshifting is taking place… The focus on the issue of piracy is now providing cover for a far wider range of activities that are not necessarily considered criminal, but should be.
With the focus on the pirates, as Somali (former) Colonel Mohamed Nureh Abdulleh says, the world can turn a blind eye to things that are of more immediate concern to the local people in the regions where the ships are being held… little things like toxic dumping and environmental catastrophe resulting from illegal dumping… or worse if people start to get crazy about how to reclaim these ships (or the pirates do…) Abdulleh says these problems have been around for a long time and the governments and agencies now completey freaked out by the piracy because of loss of profit have never been bothered about these more tangible problems for the region in question. [For those of you familiar with my graduate work regarding Area 51, you will understand my interest with this… economics are the BEST cover for criminal activity against marginalized and disenfranchised people.] People around “Pirate Cove” are like, Oh, NOW you care? Can we not understand their obvious lack of sympathy with the financial losses being acrued at the hands of the pirates?
Basically, to combat the problem on the high seas is going to cost a tremendous amount of money. You can now buy Pirate Insurance, and other options include armed escort boats along with substantially extended routes, clearly at significant expense. And everybody is saying that dealing with the pirates is not their problem: Are merchant ships now to be warships? Should the military get involved, and if so whose? And at the end of the day, whose interests are we most concerned about? The local people in the ‘pirate’ zones who will undoubtedly suffer the most? The commercial entities backed by millions, though losing some of those millions? National pride? The pirates themselves?
The pirates are well trained and strategic, but I mean, would we care about them if they were not? The situation is fascinating, because it is dangerous and reminiscent of something we all wonder about… no longer will my students gloss over the fact that the ONLY crime explicitly addressed in the US Constitution is piracy on the high seas…
Change must come… the question is, will it come through the barrel of a gun?
If nothing else… sit back and get yourself ready for the next Talk Like a Pirate Day.