Thanks to an archaic body of laws pertaining to ocean trade and passage, few merchant vessels carry any arms capable of defending the ship in case of armed assault. This effectively means open season on anyone with a boat and a Kalashnikov in any of the impoverished archipelagos that dot the Seven Seas. Small craft, such as yachts and small cruise ships are particularly dangerous, since pirates will often kill everyone and steal the boat. But until recently the attacks on big ships were mostly of the board, snatch, grab and leave again variety, garnering little attention from naval authorities in the region. Lately, however, the capture of ships and the holding of crew for ransom have become the new paradigm, and the world’s attention has been attracted. The mutually profitable underbelly of the maritime industry is now coming clear.
On the miles of sand dune beaches on the horn of the Africa coast the common architecture goes to mud huts and tin roofs. These days, however, veritable seaside mansions are springing up, along with local water systems and the occasional gas station to serve the increasing number of Land Rovers and Mercedes. Piracy has injected big cash into the local economy of tribal villages, and few former subsistence fishermen are looking to go back to hauling nets. The shipping magnates of Europe, America and Asia are all too willing to pay pirates some miniscule percentage of the value of their ships and cargo, particularly since the shippers all have insurance against such events. Very expensive insurance!
The insurance companies, like all such entities, are playing the odds. The actual number of pirate ransom assaults is fairly low. Most ships are not hit, but they all pay their insurance premiums, producing big profits for the insurers so long as the piracy plague doesn’t get too far out of hand.
The final factor of the buccaneer saga is the deployment of naval forces from assorted nations to police some sector of the sea lanes. The at-sea boarding and inspection of ships and boats offers notoriously high profits to corrupt crews, who become the very armed bandits they are supposed to control.
Piracy, like banking and other primitive capitalist systems, is big business, or visa versa.
“Travus T. Hipp” is a 40-year veteran radio commentator with six stations in California carrying his daily version of the news and opinions. “The Poor Hippy’s Paul Harvey,” Travus is a member of the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame, but unemployable in the Silver State due to his eclectic political views.