Monday, November 14, 2005

The Mother Ship

Arabian dhowThe saga of the Somali pirates continues apace. According to an article over the weekend in the Independent Online of South Africa, there is a large ship directing and co-ordinating smaller vessels in the attacks on shipping, and holding the captured crews for ransom:
    Nairobi — Somali pirates attacked five ships in the past week in a sharp rise of banditry apparently directed from a mysterious “mother ship” prowling the busy Indian Ocean corridor, shipping experts said on Friday.
Most vessels escaped, but one was commandeered, bringing to seven the number of vessels now being held captive along with their crews by pirates plundering the failed state’s coastline, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said.
“Insecurity off the Somali coast has escalated sharply - it is very worrying,” Andrew Mwangura, programme co-ordinator at the Kenyan Seafarers’ Association, told Reuters. He said nine ships, including two Arabian dhows, had been seized.
Mwangura said five vessels were attacked in the past week alone including the attempt last Saturday to board the Bahamas-registered Seabourn Spirit, which was carrying 151 Western tourists.
Rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles were fired at the US-owned Spirit by gunmen in two small speedboats, but the ship’s captain managed to change course and speed away.
At the centre of the wave of recent attacks is a mysterious, so-called mother ship that has been spotted three times since late July drifting off the northeast coast of Somalia.
“We understand that this is the vessel that is launching the speedboats that go to attack the victims,” Mwangura said.
“We are still trying to discover the name of this ship, its owner, its nationality and the identity of the crew on board.”
After two years of relative calm, the IMB said 32 pirate attacks had been recorded since mid-March, including raids on ships carrying supplies for the UN World Food Programme.
Mwangura said among the ships being held hostage by pirates were vessels registered in Thailand, Taiwan, Malta and Ukraine. More than 100 crew members were being held for ransom.
The attack on the American cruise ship brought into our awareness something that might otherwise have gone unnoticed by most Americans — the extent of Indian Ocean piracy:

  • Thirty-two attacks since March.
  • Five attacks in the last week.
  • Seven vessels held captive.
  • A hundred crew members held for ransom.

And this is the 21st century, not the 18th.

This must not be a jihad operation, since “Arabian dhows” (and presumably Muslims) are among the victims. Or are these dhows insufficiently Muslim? Apostates, perhaps…?

It seems that the traditional Arab entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Somalia. A lucrative harvest of fruit ripe for the picking, just off the coast, and no annoying functioning government to interfere.

The shipping companies of the world are appealing to the UN to do its job and take care of the problem. We’ll see.

There was no UN to appeal to back when the Barbary pirates were plying their trade in the Mediterranean, no international bodies staffed with expert bureaucrats ready to leap to the assistance of the victims of piracy.

Back then, the world had to make do with the U.S. Marines.


goesh said...

I would give anything to be a bona fide pirate. I certainly couldn't murder anyone but my God! to hoist the skull and cross bones and descend on a fat yacht and plunder the electronic gear and jewelry and silverware and credit cards and cash! I would wear a cutlass and dress like a 17th century pirate. I swear to god I would - I would swagger with rum on my breath and wave a cutlass in the air and make lewd comments about the women.

goesh said...

This is true - when I was in Gambia, W. Africa in the Peace Corps some of us volunteers would frequent this one bar in the capitol when we pulled out of the bush for a few days of R&R. This place was not frequented by tourists. There was this small group of rough looking characters with dred locks and unusual attire that always kept to themselves sort of in the back of the place. One night they all got roaring drunk and started singing that old pirate song - yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, 15 men on a dead man's chest, etc. Nobody seemed to know anything about them and the locals avoided talking about them. I presume they were just some street thugs but I will never forget them singing that song.

To the point of the blog entry, the fact that thugs ply the sea in this manner should not be surprising. Why not? They do it on land all the time. Like any gangsters, they probably hide their weapons aboard the mother ship and pretend to be fisherman. Piracy on the high seas has never ended, it just hasn't gotten any headlines for a few hundred years. Carribean pirates are notoriously blood thirsty. They don't fly the skull and cross bones anymore however.

BlogDog said...

Is it a derelict oil tanker being rowed by men who smoke a lot?

Maybe "Waterworld" was more prophetic than I realized....

Anonymous said...

"The shipping companies of the world are appealing to the UN to do its job and take care of the problem."

Pardon me while I stop laughing. I've suggested this elsewhere, there must be British, U.S. or possibly even Indian submarines in the general vicinity. Why not give one of them a bit of target practice on the "mother ship". One or two torpedoes coupled with plausible deniability.

BTW - piracy has been an issue for some time off the Horn of Africa. Various sailing yachts traversing the area have commented on it but it's been much closer to shore and not with this level of audacity or frequency.

Wally Ballou said...

I know it's tempting to see everything through the prism of jihad, but for Pete's sake - piracy isn't jihad, it's more like original sin.

There have always been pirates, as long as people have been on the sea - there are just more of them when there is no force to suppress them. Needless to say, there is no law at sea except what nations send there. That means they need the moral clarity to use force, which is in short supply these days.

The Brits, the US - hell, the Indians could blow this bunch out of the water any time (along with their hostsage, unfortunately) - it may be just that no-one wants to own the problem. If the UN was worth anything, it would be to address this kind of situation.

That said, I predict you will see action soon - from the US (of course) with some kind of international support (British) to act against this gang. After that, what? A permanent floating police force off the horn? Nobody wants to fix Somalia. We tried that and Willy C got his pants singed.

Baron Bodissey said...

Wally, I know it's not jihad. That was my point -- that it's more like the traditional Arab entrepreneurial spirit, which regards the goods of all outsiders as fair game. Not to mention the outsiders themselves.

Wally Ballou said...

Why "Arab"? My point is it's unrestrained human nature, wheterh it's Viking berserkers, Miami dope runners or SE Asians in the South China Sea. I wasn't kidding about original sin. (and Somalis are hardly Arab, if that's what these people are - we don't know yet)

As Dr Sowell has said (paraphrasing) we shouldn't look for the "root causes" of poverty and war - they are given. What requires explanation is wealth and peace.

Here is the horse's mouth on current marine piracy - it was actually trending down until quite recently.

Van Helsing said...

Thank you pirates for proving once again that the UN is absolutely useless.

Dymphna said...

Well, now that we *do* have access to news about piracy it has become a point of interest. It may well have been going on all this time, but we didn't hear about it. Or perhaps I've been listening in the wrong places.

Pirates are more interesting than the categories you name...

Viking berserkers are no longer with us,
I wouldn't live in Miami or any other place with a huge drug problem on a bet,
and while I agree with you on the original sin bit --i.e., the lawlessness of the human heart -- there is a shudder, a frisson, about the idea of being in a very vulnerable place, like the ocean, and having no way to defend yourself. On land you think that at least you might have the chance to escape, however illusory that thought might be. The sea has no illusions.

The maritime laws are very ancient and when they're violated so blatantly, without any seeming penalty, it's creepy...and perhaps just an indication of an ever- growing lawlessness which is freaky, too.

There is some strong sense that piracy is truly wicked...and that's why its occurrence draws more attention and thought.

OTOH, the ships that ignore the dangers by not staying two hundred miles out, are going to have real problems....

Dymphna said...

van H--

Maybe they'll sail into Turtle Bay and take ol' Koffi for ransom.

I hope.

Wally Ballou said...

Actually, D, I wasn't naming categories - those are pirates. The Viking Berserkers are gone, sure, but I didn't mention drug runner because they are drug runners - some of those guys are also real walk-the-plank pirates. And the pirates in the South China Sea are a big problem and have been for many years. People have been robbed and their yachts stolen right in the Caribbean. If they tried a cruise ship in those waters, they'd be in a world of trouble, but individual small boats can be easy prey, if it seems worth it. Most of that area is not under CG patrol, nor could it be.

There isn't a big historical gap between Captain Kidd and the Somali Seadogs - the entire interim period is full of piracy - but not under the nose of the Coast Guard, the RN, or any other effective force. They hide in the cracks between laws and powers - and the ocean is very, very big.

I have been reading about massive piracy in the South China Sea since the end of the Vietnam war - and that's just when we noticed it.

My point: it's not new and it doesn't seem to be increasing - our attention has been drawn to a particulary brazen group because they crossed the line into big media attention.

I do hope they send the Marines, though - it'll be a big nostalgia trip for the Corps - just like when Mr J sent them to Tripoli.

al fin said...

Has anyone tried using a satellite photography service to spot the mystery "rogue" mother ship? I doubt if it would require the super optics of a military or spy satellite. Commercial sats should provide adequate resolution.

Dymphna said...

Uncle Pavian--

I've heard Wally Ballou say it means he's a pirate?..hmm.

Explains his absences, his "vacations."

Dymphna said...

al fin--

a good point. So if they haven't used it to spot the ship, why not? And if they have, why isn't the ship being used for target practice?

Provided, of course, it's been established as the mother of all pirate ships.

Wally Ballou said...

Arrrr Jim, lad. Remember every September 19 be "talk like a pirate day" Arrrrr

Seriously, contrary to popular belief, we can't track all the ships at sea (they're working on it). They are too small and numerous and the ocean is too big. If we know where one is, a satellite or plane can take a look at it, but there is no real-time monitoring of all traffic - it just ain't practical yet (arrrr)

(The research priority isn't pirates - the goal is tracking container ships world-wide for possible terrorist use)