Saturday, December 12, 2009

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Pirates in the News: December 12, 2009

Piracy in Somalia and around the world continues to hit the news,

in Spain, the opposition party questioned the choice to pay pirates a ransom for the crew of the trawler Alakrana. The $3.3 Million ransom was paid and the full crew released just before Thanksgiving.

In Kenya, courts are prosecuting many cases of piracy on the high seas but face many problems including translation, sluggish proceedings and international pressure.

The North Korean Captain of the tanker MV Theresa VIII was mortally wounded during the hijacking of the tanker off the Seychelles in November.

In Bangladesh, 16 fishermen went missing and are presumed dead after a pirate attack in the Bay of Bengal.

Eighteen fishermen were assaulted in the Bay of Bengal by a band of 25-30 pirates Friday, said fishermen Shahidullah and Abdur Rahim. Shahidullah like many Bangladeshis uses only one name.

The survivors said the pirates severely beat them and slashed some of the fishermen with knives before throwing them all overboard.

Shahidullah and Rahim were rescued by another fishing boat, but the other fishermen remain missing in waters off Cox's Bazar, a coastal town 185 miles (296 kilometers) south of the capital, Dhaka.

"The pirates took away the boat, fish and nets from us," Shahidullah told The Associated Press.

The British Couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler are still reportedly being held on land in Somalia, and remain in fear for their lives. Their captors continue to release death threats against the pair if ransoms are not paid.

Pirates have captured the Greek Owned, Red Sea Spirit:
"Red Sea Spirit was taken by gunmen off the Yemeni coast last Thursday. She is flying the Panama flag," Mwangura said. "She is a Greek-owned bulk carrier."
The ship was captured off the coast of Yemen. Another Greek ship, the Maran Centaurus captured by somali pirates reached the coast of Somalia on the 2nd of December. Yet a third Greek-Owned ship paid a ransom for the Maltese flagged Ariana which pirates have said they are happy to release:

In the Somali coastal town of Hobyo, a self-proclaimed pirate who gave his name as Ahmed Gedi said his group had been paid $2.8 million to free the Ariana. It was not possible to independently verify the amount of ransom paid. "After we check and count it, we will leave the ship and free it," Gedi told the AP on the phone."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pirate Economies: the Somalian Pirate Stock Market

Pirates are becoming increasingly media savvy and their international profile has achieved new levels of sophistication in recent months if press coverage is anything to go by. While the news increasingly covers attacks thwarted by international navies, and new ships in the waters: here, here, here, and here.

Media attention is increasingly turning to feel good followups of the Maersk Alabama, Editorial analysis of the approaches begin taken to protect shipping, and like the concept of "victory in Iraq" can we "win against pirates?"

While the debate about piracy is also framed in two interesting ways "the downtrodden impoverished native" versus "the pimping playboy" these two simplifications are interacting in a fascinating cultural development that shows how modern technology is creating a new black-market economy in Somalia. In fact, a Pirate Stock Market has been established and is going strong.

Distributed infrastructure, like cell phones, coupled with the availability of weapons and technologies that allow start ups to make high risk business endeavors (pirate attacks) that put their human capital at risk but yield very high profits if they are successful have led to a new upper class of gang-leaders and warlords on mainland Somalia, who are not only living lavishly by comparison to their employees but also, reinvesting their earnings in these pursuits from the relative safety of their strongholds. The evolution of this business model has hit a new threshold, as years of ransom profits have fueled the creation of a Stock Market in Haradheere.

The Haradheere Market as reported by Reuters, comprises 72 'maritime companies' and investment in stock in the companies is publicly available. This investment opportunity is significant in several ways: It is protected by local government, and benefits the district-

"Piracy-related business has become the main profitable economic activity in our area and as locals we depend on their output," said Mohamed Adam, the town's deputy security officer.

"The district gets a percentage of every ransom from ships that have been released, and that goes on public infrastructure, including our hospital and our public schools."

and provides economic opportunity and a community center for those in the pirate industry.

"Given the choice of moving with his parents to Lego, their ancestral home in Middle Shabelle where strict Islamist rebels have banned most entertainment including watching sport, or joining the pirates, he opted to head for Haradheere.

Now he guards a Thai fishing boat held just offshore.

"First I decided to leave the country and migrate, but then I remembered my late colleagues who died at sea while trying to migrate to Italy," he told Reuters. "So I chose this option, instead of dying in the desert or from mortars in Mogadishu."

Haradheere's "stock exchange" is open 24 hours a day and serves as a bustling focal point for the town. As well as investors, sobbing wives and mothers often turn up there seeking news of male relatives missing in action.

This example of economic development shows capitalism in action, the options provided by the pirate industry are high risk, but the risks are not that much higher than other economic options in the region, in fact, with such significant rewards and the implementation of a stock market to increase investment profits are up.

"Ransoms have even increased in recent months from between $2-3 million to $4 million because of the increased number of shareholders and the risks," he said.

"Let the anti-piracy navies continue their search for us. We have no worries because our motto for the job is 'do or die'."

Piracy investor Sahra Ibrahim, a 22-year-old divorcee, was lined up with others waiting for her cut of a ransom pay-out after one of the gangs freed a Spanish tuna fishing vessel.

"I am waiting for my share after I contributed a rocket-propelled grenade for the operation," she said, adding that she got the weapon from her ex-husband in alimony.

"I am really happy and lucky. I have made $75,000 in only 38 days since I joined the 'company'."

In Foreign Policy, Elizabeth Dickenson has been covering the Somali pirate situation and says the following in regards to enforcement of international law:

As I argued earlier this year, piracy is becoming increasingly like drug trafficking: it's not the little guys who you want to go after. It's the big financial gurus who are making bank. In that vein, news of a 'stock market' of sorts might just be good news. That money must be being laundered somewhere... meaning there's a chance financial sanctions could cut deep. It's pirates' pockets that are their Achilles heels.
Until then the western world has to ask, at what point does a 'pirate economy' become a regular 'economy'? Both in our definition of the crimes, and whether or not this criminal market infrastructure won't eventually lead to legal economic development?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pirates in the Media: December 10, 2009

Bruce Wayne is lost in a time stream in an upcoming 6 comic release from DC.

That's right Pirate Batman.

In addition, Rob Marshall, director of the fourth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" is excited to work with Johnny Depp. And who wouldn't be?

"I think [Disney is] probably looking for a fresh approach," he explained. "I think it's good when you're doing these series' of films, like 'Harry Potter.' It's nice to bring in a fresh approach." The real question is, how does Marshall define "fresh"?

"I don't know yet. Johnny's playing Captain Jack, so that's there," he revealed. "It'll be its own thing. I'll approach it as a film." This confirmation is at odds with that he'd only do another "Pirates" if he read a script that was "worthy of the audience's attention," but Marshall is pretty sure the actor is in.

Taking a break from his busy Dinosaur Skull purchasing schedule; as part of a UN Goodwill tour, Nicolas Cage met with imprisoned pirates in Kenya.

The actor visited Shimo La Tewa prison in the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa to interact with suspected Somali pirates awaiting trial and know the reason behind the increase in piracy in the Indian Ocean.
Also, Michael Crichton, who died in 2008, is going to have his final manuscript, Pirate Lattitudes posthumously published. The film rights have been secured by Stephen Spielberg.

Set in the Caribbean in 1665, Latitudes is nothing like Crichton's last novel, Next (2006), a cautionary tale about genetic research. It's more history as entertainment, as in The Great Train Robbery (1975), which he set in Victorian England.

It stars a dashing Harvard-educated English privateer, Charles Hunter. With the colonial governor's unofficial blessing, he sets out to capture a Spanish galleon laden with treasure.

The novel is laden with violence and sex. Throats are cut, along with less public body parts.

There's little of what English teachers call "character development." But what colorful characters, including a tough female pirate who dresses as a man. In raids, she's in the "habit of baring her breasts in order to confuse and terrify the enemy."

Crichton has done his homework on nautical matters. His cinematic descriptions and sex scenes waste few words.

If that's not enough, there's a hurricane and sea monster that should put Spielberg's special-effects team to the test.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009