Pirates


 

Paul and Rachel Chandler seem like a fairly ordinary cruising couple wandering about the watery part of the world. They do not appear to be rich; their boat is a modest, older Rival 38 sailboat. They’re quiet and soft-spoken, soaking in life’s adventures as a mature, able team. No doubt they’ve faced plenty of challenges as they made their way around the Indian Ocean, from provisioning to handling a sudden squall.

 

But they couldn’t handle an attack from Somali pirates, and as of this writing are still held captive. According to their statements in the shaky video released by the pirates, everyone is getting a little antsy. The British government is holding firm on its no-negotiation stance, and in fact in November it reportedly quelled a negotiated ransom of a tiny fraction of what the pirates wanted. The Chandlers’ boat Lynn Rival was delivered back to England by the same Royal Navy ship, Wave Knight, which was unable to intervene while the hostages were transferred from one vessel to another.

 

Piracy seems to ebb and flow throughout history, and we’re definitely in a flow. And while Hollywood pirates almost always have some redeeming qualities, the real ones do not. Somalia is in chaos and there is untold suffering there. Because of this, the Somali pirates seem to think it’s a viable justified business model to capture ships, yachts and their crews captive, take in a ransom and then let it go. “They have money, we do not,” they apparently think. “Just give us the money and nobody gets hurt.” Kinda like Robin Hood. And it’s undeniably profitable. According to journalist Mohammed Olad Hassan, money is being flaunted in the pirate lair of Bossaso, Somalia, and skewing the local economy while mad money flies about. For pirate captains, or whatever they call themselves, the money buys Mercedes, not mac and cheese.

 

I am sorry that Somalia, as much of Africa, is in chaos and people are suffering. I understand that desperation leads to desperate acts.  And I’m no fan of violence and military action. But I’m with the French military and our own President Obama, who, when given the opportunity, pull the trigger on the pirates. Pull it twice just to be sure.

 

There’s nothing new about this problem. Piracy may well be the world’s second oldest profession, dating back at least to the 13th Century BC. During one of the flow periods, Thomas Jefferson, who much preferred disarming foes intellectually rather than physically, advocated a serious military response to piracy (to be executed by an international coalition). There really is no viable alternative. If you pay pirates, they’ll just do it again. Negotiations are pretty well impossible, because they’re not any kind of country that can be held accountable by the world of nations.

 

Pirates shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt. And throughout history they generally don’t. When Julius Caesar was captured by pirates and imprisoned on Pharmacusa, he was to be ransomed for 20 talents of gold. Insulted, he suggested to the pirates he was worth 50. The new sum paid, he was released. But we’re talking Caesar here. He raised a fleet, then hunted down the pirates and had them killed.

 

And the Brits have a history of dealing with pirates harshly. Captain Kidd’s body was one of many pirates whose bodies, after execution, where encased in iron cages for all to see for however long it took their flesh to disappear. It’s not clear how effective a deterrent that might have been, but no pirate could claim surprise when he or she was dealt with harshly.

 

It’s safe to say that at one time or another there have been pirates just about everywhere. Pirate “nationalities” include Norse, Irish, Polynesians, Slavs, (East) Indians, Chinese, Arab, Brits and everyone in between. One of the few places piracy has never seemed to be an issue is here in the Pacific Northwest. Readers, please correct me if I’m wrong.

 

It’s also relatively easy to pick out piracy problem areas in the world. There are websites and newscasts that will list a whole host of places where piracy has occurred, starting with Somalia but including other hotspots such as the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea and a few. There are a whole host of areas where there are isolated incidents, including the Seychelles, Thailand, Corsica, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Guatemala. In today’s information age, it’s a fairly straightforward exercise to get the information on the human hazards at potential landfalls, and that should be just as much a part of planning as getting charts and downloading weather files.

 

The best web site for this appears to be www.noonsight.com. It has several pages dedicated to reports of piracy, both historically and currently. Another apparently valuable resource is seven seas cruising, or www.ssca.org.

 

In early December pirates reportedly boarded a sailboat in the main shipping channel entering Cartagena. This is especially troublesome as that is a thoroughfare for the heading to the Panama Canal, and it was in full view of plenty of shipping traffic.

 

I would not take my family where there have been any confirmed reports of piracy. There are just too many great places where there is no piracy. The Chandlers had been in pirate waters for a while.

 

But piracy can happen just about anywhere, so what can one do to prepare? More and more, commercial shipping is fighting back with weaponry of their own and the watchful eyes of the world’s navies. And perhaps the juiciest of all targets, superyachts and their crews, are known to be ready to fight back. One report has the crew of a 200-foot luxury schooner picking up an intersecting blip on the radar. By the time the pirates shined their spotlight on the schooner’s rail, it was lined with well-armed crewmembers. The apparent pirates decided it might not be worth it.

But for Mo and Barb Cruiser, it’s not so simple.

 

There are certainly means of communication such as EPIRB and sat phone that can deliver a message, but that’s not going to stop an attack or get the cavalry in. The real question is whether or not to arm oneself. Plenty of cruisers carry around guns and plenty do not. If you’re going to declare your guns at points of entry, that could cause some real issues with national authorities. If they’re not declared and found, those issues could become really nasty.

 

Another alternative is pepper spray. One cruiser successfully fought off pirates by spraying it through an open porthole at pirates in his cockpit. My cruising friend Tom is contemplating bear spray. Just remember to make sure the porthole is OPEN, Tom. Ships’ crews have actually had some luck with long-range acoustical devices (LRADs), which can disorient targets with concentrated sound waves. I’m not sure I want something like that on my boat, either.

 

Sure, if the pirates aren’t well equipped or determined, light weapons can be effective. One of the gutsiest sailors of all time, Peter Blake, thought that when he was anchored off Macapa’, Brazil, in the Amazon Delta.  While trying to repel pirates already onboard with a rifle, he was fatally shot.

 

Face it; hardened criminals with rocket-propelled grenades are going to overwhelm Mo and Barb.

 

Piracy is one of those things governments need to fix. It’s been that way and will continue that way. Whether it’s a supertanker or a Nordhavn, a vessel is always vulnerable to armed and determined pirates. Thanks to their tens of millions in successful ransom requests, the Somali pirates have garnered a lot of attention when it comes to commercial traffic and warships are on call ready to protect commercial interests.

 

But as of this writing, the Chandlers aren’t getting the same kind of attention. The British government, at least officially, refuses to pay ransom and by stifling a negotiated bargain basement ransom has shown its proverbial stiff upper lip. The Royal Navy is under attack from within and from the outside for not stepping in to stop the transfer of the Chandlers from one boat to another.

 

The French seem to have it figured out. At least twice in the last year, the French Navy has rescued pirate hostages. Some hostages were killed, as were many pirates. The remaining pirates are awaiting trial, though their punishment will likely not involve post mortem iron cages.

 

Thoughts, anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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