Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fat Pirate Knowledge

Aaargh, I've got pirates on the brain.

I have long lamented the fact that I was born in a non-pirate century, where the closest thing I get is a puffy shirt Seinfeld episode or being able to freely download Treasure Island to a Kindle. But, no longer. The pirates are back, making news this week for hijacking a supertanker carrying $100 million of oil (and that is with $50/barrel oil prices, had they hijacked this 2 months ago the value would have been double). Apparently the pirate business is going gangbusters off of the coast of Somalia.

If you are like me, you have questions about how these pirates operate and thanks to the News Hour, I have answers.

When did this problem start?

A small number of pirate interests that started off in 2003 became more sophisticated over the years, have generated a substantial amount of ransom money that they can then reinvest in new piracy operations.
2003, why is that year familiar? Oh right, that is the year that the Pirates of the Caribbean hit the theaters. Hollywood! Are there no violent actions on the whole planet for which that are not responsible?

Look at how Hollywood's glamorization of pirates has infested Somalian culture:
"They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day," Abdi Farah Juha, a resident of the regional capital of Garowe, told the BBC. "They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns."

"Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable," he added.
Papa Bear Bill O'Reilly, it is up to you to hold Hollywood accountable for this.

How exactly does a pirate attack work?
Although these ships are being attacked hundreds of nautical miles off-shore, these are relatively low-tech operations that the pirates are running.

They bring a small number of speedboats -- maybe three or five -- off the Somali coast. Maybe they capture a slightly larger fishing trawler that they can use as a base of operations for days or weeks. They can lay in wait for ships to come by. They might maneuver themselves into high-density shipping areas.

Once they see a boat that might be a little bit slow, a little bit low in the water, with sides that aren't too high off the seas, they then use grappling hooks and ladders to board the ship.

And some people report that attack from beginning to end, it might take only 15 minutes until a crew is actually seized and put under pirate guard, and then the vessel steams back to the Somali coast for the ransoming process to begin.
How many ships have been attacked this year?
So far this year, Somali pirates have launched almost 100 attacks on ships in and around the gulf, with at least three dozen having been hijacked.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, a private group that monitors global piracy, at least 14 vessels with 243 crew members are still being held.
How much money do the pirates make per boat and in total this year?
With the average ransom for a ship approaching $2 million, piracy is one of the most lucrative businesses in Somalia, the BBC reported.

Peter Pham, the U.N. secretary-general today estimated that pirates had taken in -- I think it was $20 million to $30 million so far this year in ransom.
How far offshore can the pirates get?
Well, these are obviously very brazen attacks, to be able to get out to 450 nautical miles off of the east African coast is just something that people didn't think was possible in the past.
Why don't the navies of the world just take these guys out?
The problem, however, is that the waters that we're dealing with were -- originally we thought we needed to cover about a million square miles of sea. Now, with the recent capture of the tanker, we're looking at maybe 2 million to 3 million square miles, and simply put, there aren't the naval resources to cover that size.
Seriously, can't anyone take these guys out?
One of the few victories against the pirates was chalked up by the Indian navy on Tuesday when the warship INS Tabar sank a suspected pirate "mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats.
Score one for the fightin' Gandhis.

Given that the pirate business is the only industry that is currently booming in the world, are there any legal ways one can get in on the action?
I was just reading a story today about boom towns growing up on the coast of Somalia from the money that's coming in. These are very remote villages on the Somali coast, very far away from any urban centers, towns that don't really make the headlines like Mogadishu does. But these are places that are growing up as 14-odd ships now are being held off their immediate coastline, and a small pirate industry is booming.
Looks like real estate on the Somali coast would be a good bet.

Will this move by the pirates cause ninjas to do something even bigger?
Obviously you know nothing about the ways of ninjas. They move in secret. If you knew that a ninja was responsible for an action, then that ninja has failed. Who knows, the ninjas might have been responsible for the sub-prime mortgage mess, the financial collapse of Wall Street, or the automakers going bankrupt. They have likely already made a move that dwarfs what the pirates did and you don't even know it.
Will Gangsta Rap be usurped by Pirate Rap?
We can only hope.

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