Basically, a pirate is someone who commits a robbery at sea or on shore without permission from a nation, obviously. We have been hearing a lot about these pirates on the news lately, the biggest robbery being the huge, Saudi-owned Sirius Star, whose cargo included 2 million barrels of oil, seized Nov. 15 by a handful of pirates, 450 miles off the coast of East Africa.
Who Are These Pirates?
These pirates are claimed to be Somali fishermen, whose boats had been attacked by unauthorized foreign vessels fishing in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
A 42 year old father of nine who described himself as ‘pirate boss’ says, “Our boats were often destroyed and we were forced to flee.”
The pirates consider themselves as “heroes running away from poverty.”
“We don’t see the hijacking as a criminal act but as a road tax because we have no central government to control our sea.”
How Do the Pirates Operate?
With no government for the past 20 years, the port of Eyl in Somalia is where these modern day pirates are based. This is how they do it:
1. They set out into sea in a “mother ship” that takes them into the shipping lanes, several hundred miles offshore.
2. They then launch small speedboats armed with little more than AK 47’s, grenades and grappling irons to haul themselves up onto the deck of a ship.
Generally, they can sieze a ship without firing a shot.
How Many Ships Have Been Hijacked?
The Somali pirates have captured 39 ships so far this year. When the huge Saudi-owned ship was seized, the Saudi foreign minister has said that his government does not negotiate with hijackers but added, significantly, that “what the ship owners do, is up to them.”
Some ship owners have paid the ransom. Ransoms worth an estimated $150 million have been paid in the past year, by approximately 25 shipowners, in payments dropped in sacks, by helicopter or packed into waterproof suitcases and floated on boats toward an agreed pickup point.
What Have These Pirates Done With All That Money?
The pirates have been throwing their ransom money around, building huge villas, importing expensive cars, opening restaurants and generally winning popular support in their home port of Eyl.
What Can the Ships Do to Protect Themselves?
1. Avoid the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and the Suez Canal, and take a detour around the entire African continent, past the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, to reach the Mediterranean and European ports. Except that this southern route adds 12 to 15 days to each voyage, at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000 a day.
2. Nine countries now have warships in the area, but the navies are operating under a restrictive United Nations mandate that does not allow them to actually board hijacked vessels .
3. Some shipping companies have considered hiring private security companies to protect their ships, even arming the ship’s crews, though merchant ships are by law generally prohibited from carrying weapons.
4. “Sail through these pirate-infested waters at night,” advices the International Maritime Organization.
5. “Try using high-pressure fire hoses against the pirates as they approach the ship in their small speedboats,” further advices the International Maritime Organization.
How Many Hostages Have Died in This Wave of Piracy?
Captured crew members said on release that they were well treated by the pirates who told them not to be frightened, because “you are poor people like us.”
(Hmm, makes me wonder if the crew members get a share from the loot.)
This post, by the way, is taken from Hilary Brown’s interesting article for the ABC News entitled, Who Are These Pirates?