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It’s all fun and games until somebody loses some rice.

It’s official Talk Like A Pirate day today, a day that seems to have particular appeal for copyfighters like Cory Doctorow (who react to the media industry’s technique of describing media sharing as “piracy” with a hearty “Arrr!”) and new theologians like Father Bobby Henderson (who demonstrates a clear correlation between the shrinking pirate population and global warming in his seminal letter on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) Clearly, in the blogosphere, pirates are pretty cool.

Here’s thing thing: piracy sucks.

Not media piracy – I’m not particularly interested in that debate, and I dislike the term a great detail, at least when it’s applied to file-sharing individuals and not folks cranking out copyright-violating CDs and DVDs.

I mean real piracy. The guns and knives and folks seizing ships type of piracy. The type of piracy defined by the International Maritime Bureau as “…the act of boarding any vessel with an intent to commit theft or any other crime, and with an intent or capacity to use force in furtherance of that act.”

You know, the sort of piracy that’s keeping 850 tons of rice, designated as food aid for Somali victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, on the MV Semlow rather than in the hands of people who need it. The ship, enroute from Mombassa to Bossaso, was seized by Somali pirates on June 27th. Its crew (eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian and a Sri Lankan captain) and cargo were being held for $500,000 ransom. After ransom demands were refused, the pirates agreed to leave the ship so long as their allies within Somalia were permitted to supervise the distribution of the stolen rice. The ship has recently docked in Elmaan, north of Mogadishu – it’s unclear whether the crew, the cargo or the ship will be released.

Piracy – real piracy – is experiencing a renaissance, especially in developing world ports. The waters off Nigeria are especially dangerous, as are the Malacca Straits of Indonesia. But the waters off the coasts of Somalia are now so dangerous that the ICC’s Weekly Piracy report carries this alert:

Somalia – East and NE coast
Twenty incidents have been reported since 15.03.05. Heavily armed pirates are now attacking ships further away from the coast. The most recent incident took place 120 nm off the eastern coast. Ships are advised to keep as far away as possible from the Somali coast.

(There’s one possible – and, perhaps even plausible – scenario that brings a smile to my face – the thought of pirates seizing one of the ships Swiss and Italian firms have used to bring barrels of toxic waste to Somali shores, paying local warlords for the right to poison Somali waters. Would the crew just hand over the cargo? “All yours, if you want it…”)

Vast quantities of data on piracy on the International Chamber of Commerce Commercial Crime Services website, including pretty maps of instances of marine piracy in 2004.

It’s almost enough to make me take off my eyepatch and take down the Jolly Rodger. Arrrr!, indeed.

3 thoughts on “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses some rice.”

  1. It should be noted that there was a clear correlation between the scaling back of the US Sixth Fleet (formerly based at Subic Bay) and the rise of piracy in the South China Sea.

    Of course, correlation is not the same thing as causation…

  2. Good point. I’m pretty sure Somali pirates don’t say “Shiver me timbers” so I don’t actually feel bad about talk like a pirate day, but it’s also a good excuse to remind people that real live sea piracy sucks and we should deal with it.

    So, how?

    Would the crew just hand over the cargo? “All yours, if you want it…”)

    This reminded me of the Miles Vorkosigan books, and while I’m sure you don’t have the time to read that kind of thing, if you haven’t and find yourself wanting some SF to read, check ’em out. I can pre-guarantee the Emily Cooper seal of approval, having fanagled it ahead of time. :-)

  3. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » Somali pirates dump rice, keep cement

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