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  • Pirates, of the Caribbean and elsewhere

    Posted on April 12th, 2009 Michiel de Boer No comments

    I think we have a pretty promising new guy running the show right now, but if Walt Disney would ever return from his death to be President, this small world would be so full of peace that even pirates would be cool. Like Johnny Depp. That’s clearly not the case though. Pirates, of the Caribbean and elsewhere, are not like Jack Sparrow. They are nasty evil-doers, to use another Presidential analogy.

    Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

    Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

    Until fairly recently, piracy was not a subject commonly associated with modern life. Apart from people running shipping companies, ocean sailors, and the CIA, the dangers of passing through the Strait of Malacca for instance were not widely known. It has always puzzled me why. Big media love horror stories, so combined with the romanticized image of 18th century water thugs you would think Anderson Cooper and the likes would have been on this for a while now. What more did they need? The answer, as usual, is oil.

    It took a supertanker carrying $100 million worth of crude to be hijacked by a bunch of poor Somali fishermen-turned-pirates to finally make piracy a prime time news item in November 2008. After almost two months of negotiations, the Sirius Star and its precious cargo were released for a reported $3 million ransom. Now if you think that’s enough dough to give it a shot yourself, be aware that, just like your mama used to say, crime does not pay. Or at least not for every pirate. Only a day after the release of the vessel, the body of one of the pirates washed ashore, together with his $153,000 stake in cash.

    Another element that could have made big media jump earlier on the hundreds of piracy incidents every year was the involvement of a high profile American. Not just an engine mechanic, but let’s say… a captain. Which takes us straight to captain Richard Philips, the hero of container ship Maersk Alabama. Not only did he trade the freedom of his crew for his own captivity, he tried to flee his hostage takers by jumping their little ship, and was consequently freed by an elite US Navy unit this Easter Sunday.

    So, after years of neglect piracy finally is getting duly noted now. Which hopefully leads governments to step up action on both sea and land in the Gulf of Aden. Like the Malaysian, Indonesian, and Singaporean governments did in the Strait of Malacca. Their combined efforts reduced the number of attacks from hundreds in 2002 to dozens in more recent years.

    In the meantime, it unfortunately is best to sail clear of any coastal waters around the Horn of Africa. Especially since it’s not just oil tankers and container ships that are being eyed by pirates. Over the same weekend that captain Richard Philips dominated the headlines, another sailor was less fortunate. Florent Lemacon, together with his wife and son sailing their modest 41 ft yacht Tanit along the coast of East Africa, had been taken hostage by Somali pirates too. Despite repeated warnings to avoid the area. Their rescue effort by French troops, however, left Florent Lemacon dead. Pirates, of the Caribbean and elsewhere, clearly are not cool like Johnny Depp.

    For a live map of piracy incidents click here.

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