Interesting little news item:
The "hero" captain (IMO, frankly, just another goddam statistic in the loathesome "everybody is a hero!" sweepstakes the American news media seems to be running) of the Maersk Alabama testified today in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (although why Foreign Relations and not Commerce, I can't fathom).
"Commercial ships working pirate-infested waters should be protected by an armed corps of senior officers backed by the government, Maersk Alabama Capt. Richard Phillips told Congress Thursday"
But here's what I found interesting. His boss, the CEO of the Maersk Line, did too.
"Arming merchant sailors may result in the acquisition of ever more lethal weapons and tactics by the pirates, a race that merchant sailors cannot win," Maersk Inc. Chairman John P. Clancey said in his prepared remarks."
When we had this discussion over at "buggieboy" earlier this month, I said:
"Other potential issues with the Q-ships would be the immense potential for liability in arming the sort of crews that sail a lot of these vessals. The old days of the Western merchant marines is long gone. Most of the deck crews of these ships are what a Victorian Briton would have called "lascars": Sri Lankan, Indonesian, or Korean contract sailors - basically coastal villagers with a couple of weeks training. Handing out rifles and grenade launchers to these guys? Lloyds would scream like a wounded eagle.
The alternative would be for the shipping companies to hire contract gun crews. But picture the problems and expense that would entail. You have twenty container ships that transit the Horn every quarter. You lose one a year; 0.25 ships/quarter. The ransom is 10 million dollars, or $2.5 million/quarter.
Meanwhile, you're hiring 20 gun crews a quarter, four men at $1,000/day; $360,000 per ship per quarter, roughly $7 million per quarter or $28 million a year.
This makes no sense, economically. They're financially better off paying the ransoms, and the pirates probably know that as well as we do."
And here's the proof; confronted with his own employee talking about getting armed guards on merchies, the operators of the merchant shipping lines would rather encourage their engine room crews to take up juggling live torpedoes on their break time.
What I think this points up is the problem with taking complex real-world socio-polito-military problems and trying to reduce them to news-bite talking points. The Somalis involved in this stuff aren't one-dimensional movie villians. Their reasons for freebooting are complicated and difficult to solve; a couple of bombing raids, an Ethiopian invasion...these not solutions are, young padawan, Master Yoda would say. The bottom line here is there probably IS no single simple, elegant solution; political, military or otherwise. The best answer may well be a combination of guile, force, bribery and avoidance.
But you can't put that on a bumper sticker, or get a blow-dried newsreader to put it across to a viewing audience full of Diet Pepsi and Chee-tos. So chances are we will never have any sort of sensible debate on what, if anything, the U.S. should do about it.
The real bottom line is that talking about pirates lets me post pictures of sexy pirate wenches. Arrrgh! There's a sight to shiver me timbers, eh, buckos?
And not just for the lads - here's an equal opportunity cheese-and-beefcake cover for all comers.
As an aside, I've always gotten a bit of a chuckle out of the latter-day romantic image of the buccaneer. Back in the day they were categorized as what they are, the seagoing equivalent of a mugger or a carjacker. Dangerous, violent waterborne vermin that were the lawful prey of every decent sailor or traveller who objected to robbery, rape and wanton destruction. The contemporary accounts from the great Age of Piracy in the mid-17th to the late 18th Centuries were almost exactly the same as our tabloid press coverage of crime: fascinated but horrified, a sort of violence voyeurism for the safe in bed.
It was only AFTER the sea lanes were tamed that piracy became romantic and writers (and later filmmakers) started penning odes to the jolly roger.But isn't that the whole idea? I've always loved this definition of "adventure": "Someone else having a frightening, dangerous, difficult ordeal several thousand miles away."