Monday, April 28, 2008

Pirates in the News! April 28, 2008

Howdy! This week I'm posting from delightful, landlocked West Texas, I was called away from maritime haunts to visit my parents for their 40th Wedding Anniversary. So Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Arrrr!

There's been plenty of piracy in the news this past week, not the least of which seems like a game of catch up by European Nations to be one of the cool kids in pirate thwarting after France's successful return of La Ponant, and France's associated "plan pirate-mer", piracy foreign policy plans that were announced this last week (sorry for those of you who don't speak french).

Spanish, German and Italian Ships have all been sent down to the Gulf of Aden off Somalia, several pirate attacks have been thwarted and these have been making the rounds of the international news.

Of course, what's really interesting is what hasn't been front page news:

In the past couple of days, the story that pirates off the coast of Yemen attacked a 150,000 deadweight ton oil tanker with a rocket got pushed to the back pages (New York Times, AFP, and Wall Street Journal, for example). Each article attributes at least a pip of the recent increase in the price of oil to the attack, even though the attack failed to cause any significant damage.
This quote is from a very interesting article by Eugene Gholz,

Pirates are something of a problem for small ships traveling near Somalia and Yemen. They can approach yachts, tugs, and even small cargo ships. Captains and passengers on these types of vessel should take precautions, perhaps stay out of the dangerous waters and certainly stay alert during transits.

But oil tankers are vastly larger ships — in many cases over a thousand feet long. Pirate boats have trouble approaching tankers at all (dealing with the waves that the tanker pushes outward as it plows through the water), let alone pirates’ subsequent struggle to clamber up the side of a tanker while it is underway (necessary to board the ship and capture its crew and cargo). And clambering would really be necessary: the deck of an oil tanker is quite high off the waterline, well above the deck height of pirates’ boats.

The attack on the Japanese tanker this week may represent an escalation in pirate tactics — firing a rocket at the tanker (rather than just threatening ships with small arms fire), presumably in an attempt to force the tanker to stop so that the pirates could board it. But tankers are so big that rocket fire has almost no effect. The pirates pursued the Japanese tanker for hours and were only able to put a small hole in the ship that had no effect on its ability to continue its journey.

And of course one expects to hear of successes against Somali pirates more than failures, but I find it really compelling when we hear about people rocketing oil tankers, if for no other reason than the drama, and the sheer balls of such an attack. While obviously, as Gholz points out, a few rockets are not enough to take down a super-tanker and the flow of oil across the seas is hardly imperiled, but isn't that pretty interesting news for its own sake?

No comments: