Chandlers Rescued, but at What Cost?


On November 14, cruising just got more dangerous. Paul and Rachel Chandler were freed after being held 388 days as captives of Somali pirates. A total ransom of apparently somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million dollars was paid for their release.

 

We’ve been following the Chandlers’ plight on these pages, and I’m happy for them and their friends and family who came up with the money and were ultimately successful. I’m even happy for the Somali government which apparently paid up a final surprise ransom demand on top of the approximately $500,000 paid by family. The fact that they could somehow be involved in the release shows that it might actually have some influence.

 

The details of the story promise to be fascinating as the dust settles. Apparently, middlemen stole some ransom. Somali-British cab driver Dahir Abdullahi Kadiye seems to have been the central negotiator. Pro-western Somali warlord Mohammed Aden appears to have been instrumental in the final release, along with tribal elders of that region of Somalia.

 

But this all comes at a price beyond money. The highly publicized nature of this kidnapping, and its ultimate success in bringing money to the pirates, seems like one of those late-night TV schemes for getting rich. If I were a destitute guy in coastal Somalia, I just might buy in.

 

It has become an industry off east Africa. In the days before the Chandlers’ release, the ships Samho Dream and Golden Blessing were released after a reported total of $18 million ransom was paid. Almost simultaneously, the 46,955-ton Danish tanker MT Tom Republican and the 24,105-ton MV Hannibal II were seized. The international naval task force seems unable to stop the seizures.

 

At the time of this writing there were about 30 ships and 500 hostages being held.

 

Here’s the most troubling part: The more it looks like viable business option, the more likely it is to spread to other parts of the world. There are good reasons to follow the pay-no-ransom policy. But there has to be something more.

 

What can be done? In the case of commercial traffic it seems in everybody’s interest to take it on as a simple military problem that needs more resources applied to it. How hard would it be to put some soldiers and armaments aboard some of these vessels? I just find it difficult to believe that if we can fire a smart bomb into an outhouse in the desert, pirates can’t be tracked to their lairs.

 

How hard could it be to find out where the money ends up? Just because the money was paid doesn’t mean someone can’t go and retrieve it. Take it back. Hey, they’re pirates.

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping cruisers safe is a trickier problem. Having the skills or arms to fend off pirates or determined robbers of any type is not realistic. The only way to stay safe is to stay away from dangerous areas. In a world of increasing economic disparity, safe places might get harder and harder to find.

 

The best online place to catch up on piracy is noonsight.com. There are updates on where there’s pirate activity, how to protect oneself and what convoys might be forming to run through dangerous areas. But most cruisers don’t spend a lot of time online wringing their hands about the dangers they might face. And they’re probably all very happy for the Chandlers, seeing as that could happen to anyone.

 

I say, treat pirates like pirates. They’re hurting people and they’re hurting commerce. They’re diverting resources away from efforts that might actually help their lands prosper. Most of all, even in their own lands, there are more law-abiding citizens than there are pirates.

 

The British government, which really isn’t looking very good in any of this, denies involvement in the payout. There may have been involvement behind the scenes, but on the face of it Her Majesty’s government was unable to prevent the kidnapping from happening, intervene despite being on hand and unable to secure the hostage’s release.

 

The French Special Forces appear quite good at rescuing captives, choosing to strike before the pirates get hostages ashore. Back in April they rescued three adults and one child from the yacht Tanit in the Gulf of Aden. The boat’s owner, who took them into those dangerous waters, was killed.  Vive la France.

 

Canadian Killed in front of Daughter

 

In a less publicized but even greater tragedy , a 55-year-old Canadian cruiser Milan Egramajer was killed onboard his Ericson 35 on December 3. He was shot four times. His daughter Myda, onboard at the time, survived. Details are sketchy, but reports are she was able to hide,  and then scare off the assailants with a flare gun.

Egremajer, hailing from Ontario, had been cruising the Atlantic seaboard and the Caribbean since 2008.  Myda, 24, had joined him some weeks before. The two were seeking shelter from a storm in Laguna Diamante on Honduras’s northern coast. This is apparently quite a remote region. The gunmen attacked from a small boat. The Egremajers were en route to Panama.

Myda was able to get some rescue calls off via satellite phone, but no help was forthcoming for about a day. Apparently Honduran officials said that they couldn’t reach the boat because of weather conditions. An Australian cruising boat responded to the calls for help and took a shaken but physically unharmed Myda to Belize. She is now at home in Ontario.

While more details are sure to emerge, some things are clear. These incidents are not unknown in the region, and cruisers can certainly not rest easy in an increasing number of places on earth. These assailants are nothing more than murderers and thieves. Even with Somali pirates, there’s the sense that human beings have worth, even if it can be measured in dollars.

Of course the inevitable question will bubble up about arming oneself. I don’t have an answer to that. Declaring weapons upon entry in foreign ports increases the hassles exponentially. Having undeclared weapons is illegal and can get you in real trouble with authorities. If you have weapons, could you and would you use them? What if the bad guys have bigger guns? Is the only safe way to cruise some areas to do it flotilla style?

There’s nothing new about all this. The first guy to sail around the world singlehanded, Joshua Slocum, put thumbtacks all around his deck when anchored in Tierra del Fuego. The natives of the region (“Savages” to Slocum) were known to be a little dangerous and not uninterested in robbery. While armed with firearms, Slocum really didn’t want to engage in battle, so he put the tacks around the deck. Sure enough, in the middle of the night a few shoeless invaders jumped back in their canoes with some painful yells.

We’re way past thumbtacks now, but I don’t think any of us want to carry guns onboard. I sure don’t. So, I’m going to stick around the Northwest and the South Pacific where the only robbery comes in the form of exorbitant prices, and the pirates are folk who like dressing up for costume parties.

 

Cruisers out there, what do you think?

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