Pirates made the news again this week, though I’m afraid it wasn’t good news for them. Twelve pirates were convicted in a Mauritian court for an attack on the MSC Jasmine off the coast of Somalia on January 05, 2013. It may seem like an eternity ago that the wheels of justice began turning, but they did turn. Originally, a court returned a not guilty verdict, but the prosecutors challenged the results, and a second trial yielded the new verdict.
For those of you who are geographically challenged, Mauritius is an island off the coast of southern Africa. If you didn’t know that, don’t feel bad. I had to look it up myself. Mauritius has a special treaty with the European Union that allows pirates taken off Somalia to be tried there.
And if you think Mauritius is just a small jerkwater, backwoods, impoverished island that will do anything for a buck, you’re mistaken big time. Mauritius has a thriving economy with tourism at its heart. With a solid infrastructure, this island is all about stability, democracy, and a rising middle class.
When the twelve pirates attacked the Jasmine with rocket-propelled grenades, a security team hired to protect the Jasmine repelled the attack. They promptly notified authorities, and plenty of help arrived. The USS Halyburton, the FS Surcouf, and a German patrol aircraft all played a part in apprehending the pirates.
Earlier this year Somalian pirates were found guilty of hijacking the yacht Tribal Kat and murdering its captain. They received six to fifteen years. They pretty much got away with murder. Had it been the pirate Joseph Bannister, they would have been hanging from a yardarm before the ship got into port.
Generally, pirates have been making less waves than in past years, but that’s not because they joined the YMCA or the Salvation Army. International forces have beefed up intelligence and patrols and taken a no-nonsense stand towards pirates in hotspots all around the globe.
You may remember the ordeal of Captain Richard Phillips aboard the Maersk Alabama in 2009. When he was taken hostage, it was the Navy SEALS who stepped up to the plate to rescue him. Four pirates lay dead around him on a vessel he was being held hostage on. It wasn’t a kangaroo court of execution but a successful effort to save the captain of a cargo ship. The fact that no one cried for the thugs is unfortunate. They learned as did Calico Jack Rackham, Thomas Tew, Blackbeard, and hundreds of other pirates, that if you play with cannons, sooner or later you’re going to get your balls busted.
China, for all our differences with her, has a similar zero tolerance for maritime interlopers. When the Cheung Son was taken in 2000 and all twenty-three crew members murdered, thirteen of the pirates responsible were tracked down, tried, and executed.
The face of piracy has changed in some ways over the years, adjusting to the economy. With the price of oil in a freefall, pirates have taken a new tactic and are now placing more emphasis on taking hostages for ransom. Shipping companies don’t necessarily like to talk about it, but the truth is they are often willing to pay the ransom rather than suffer the loss of life, ship, and cargo. From a financial perspective, it makes sense.
You would think that this piracy thing was pretty simple. The good guys versus the bad guys, but it gets complicated pretty fast. Men in an impoverished village in the backend of the globe struggle to feed their families. The powers-that-be offer them a way out, and they take it. It’s a story that has played out on the seas for thousands of years.
If piracy was all about a bunch of greedy thugs looking for a fast buck, the solutions to piracy would be forthcoming much faster. But maritime experts pretty much agree deep, underlying economic and social issues muddy the picture. Throw into the mix elements of organized crime, and it becomes even harder to deal with.
What should worry mariners and governments around the world most of all are radical groups who may deploy pirates to achieve their own objectives: spell that terrorism and increased cash flow to support their addiction to violence and anarchy.
When you look at the conviction of the Mauritius Twelve this week, think of it as a blow struck for mariners around the world. These are the men and women who risk their lives every day of the year to bring us the goods we depend on.
Have a Facebook or Twitter account? Send mariners a message of gratitude and support. Or repost this blog. A number of organizations support mariners and their families; learn more about them or get in touch with one and make a donation. Here are a couple for starters: http://seamenschurch.org/ and http://www.seafarerswelfare.org .
At the least, send a mariner a message of support. And if you know mariners who have swallowed the anchor after years out on the sea, call or write and thank them for their service. It’s the least we can do for those who sacrifice far more than we could ever guess.
The Uncommon Mariner