Monday, April 13, 2009

Other pirate thoughts

1) One of the reasons the US Navy concluded this incident so, uh, forcefully is that the MV Maersk Alabama is a US-flagged ship and the captive was a US citizen. Merchant shippers have broadly moved away from western flags for their vessels, preferring instead Flags of Convenience. They've also moved away from hiring western crews, preferring instead to recruit from the poorest of the developing world.

FoCs were once actually quite helpful, as it allowed the US to legally ship war materiel to Europe without technically aiding the UK before Pearl Harbor. They have, to say the least, outlived their usefulness. Given the rise in piracy around Somalia (one of the worst places for us to create a failed state, from a maritime perspective) will we see a return to more rational flagging of merchant vessels?

2) One of the reasons more ships are transiting south along the Somali coast is that currently fuel is so "cheap" and the Suez Canal is congested and expensive. At the expense of some time, companies like Maersk-Moller are running their ships around Africa and, oddly, saving money. Except, oops, sometimes you need the US navy to send a destroyer, frigate, and amphibious assault craft to rescue the captain.

3) I'm not entirely unsympathetic to these kinds of arugments, but I will say I'm unconvinced. (Thx Liam for the link.) Hari quotes Rediker's scholarship on piracy, some of which is very interesting, but whether it's actually relevant to today is another thing entirely. (Seriously though, do read Marcus Rediker.)

Yes, European fishing fleets and illegal dumping have harmed the already-miserable state of Somalia. But the reality is that these attacks on merchant shipping, by their nature, are basically predatory. The nature of maritime travel is that these small boats have to be out far in to the ocean waiting for a likely target. They're not striking a blow against imperialism, they're hyenas waiting for a sickly antelope to limp by.

I'd be more sympathetic if they were actually firing on European fishing vessels, for a whole host of reasons.

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