Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Pirate Book Club: The Invisible Hook

Hey all,

This month I'm choosing The Invisible Hook for the perusal of the Pirate Book Club, which I'm also more or less initiating right now. I'll review the book at the end of the month and want to hear what any and all of you think about it and its ideas.

So enjoy this romp into the economic implications of historical buccaneers in their own context and lets think about how they influence our own.

The Invisible Hook is an excellent book by one of the most creative young economists around.
(Steven D. Levitt Freakonomics blog )

A brisk, clever new book, The Invisible Hook, by Peter T. Leeson, an economist who claims to have owned a pirate skull ring as a child and to have had supply-and-demand curves tattooed on his right biceps when he was seventeen, offers a different approach. Rather than directly challenging pirates' leftist credentials, Leeson says that their apparent espousal of liberty, equality, and fraternity derived not from idealism but from a desire for profit.

(Caleb Crain New Yorker )

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse on Trial in New York

Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, who is facing charges in New York City for the 2008 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama is up against some new charges. In addition to the Maersk Alabama charge two more charges have been brought against the young man by the Justice Department:

The superseding indictment filed by the Justice Department in Manhattan federal court alleges that Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse hijacked a ship traveling the Indian Ocean in March 2009. He and his accomplices held the captain and crew of the vessel hostage, during which time he threatened one of the hostages with an improvised explosive device (IED).

Muse and his associates allegedly used the ship to take control of another vessel in April 2009.

Appearing in court to be indicted on those charges Muse appeared calm. As other accused pirates incarcerated in Europe have seen, this may simply because jail offers an opportunity for leisure and supply a frequency of amenities, like clean water and consistent, large meals; that those who turn to piracy have never before experienced.

Interviews with Muse's parents seem to imply a story of a young man led astray, but the additional charges imply that prosecutors do not believe that Muse is a wide-eyed first-time offender.

Muse's personal details are murky, with his parents in Somalia insisting he was tricked into getting involved in piracy. His age also remained unclear. His parents said he is only 16, but U.S. law enforcement said he is at least 18, meaning prosecutors will not have to take extra legal steps to try him in a U.S. court.

Muse's mother said she has no records to prove his age, but she and the teen's father say he is 16. "I never delivered my babies in a hospital," she said. "A traditional midwife helped me deliver."

A classmate, however, said he believed Muse could be older — and that he studied English at school.

"I think he was one or two years older than me, and I am 16," said Abdisalan Muse, reached by telephone in Galkayo. "We did not know him to be a pirate, but he was always with older boys, who are likely to be the ones who corrupted him..."

...Muse grew up poor in a one-room home, the eldest child of a divorced mother, in one of the most impoverished, violent countries in the world. A nation of around 8 million people, Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991. A quarter of Somali children die before age 5 and nearly every public institution has collapsed.

Muse's mother sells milk at a small market every day, saving around $6 every month for school fees for her oldest son. She pays 15 dollars a month in rent.

"I cried when I saw the picture of him," Hassan said, referring to the photo of her son being led in handcuffs in New York. "Relatives brought a copy of the picture to me. Surely he is telling himself now, 'My mother's heart is broken."'

She said the last time she saw her son in person, she was pushing him out the door so he would not be late for school.

Since that day weeks ago, he simply disappeared. Asked why she believed he left, Hassan was at a loss.

"A young man, at his age, could say he needed money, perhaps," she said. "I used to give him his school fee because I could not afford more than that. But of course he needed money."

The boy's father, Abdiqadir Muse, said the pirates lied to his son, telling him they were going to get money. The family is penniless, he said.

"He just went with them without knowing what he was getting into," Muse said in a separate telephone interview with the AP through an interpreter.

He also said it was his son's first outing with the pirates after having been taken from his home about a week and a half before he surrendered at sea to U.S. officials.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paul and Rachel Chandler Updates

While Paul and Rachel Chandler have been hostages in Africa for over 100 days, no ransom has been paid for their release. They were separated, then reunited, and under constant death threats that have been reiterated to the international community by their captors, hoping to move a ransom along.

Rachel Chandler recently interviewed by news sources and had said that they were going to be "killed within days". Their captors have also said that they would rather die than release the British couple without recompense.

A doctor was allowed to visit each Chandler separately and his found the pair to be fairing as well as they might be, considering:

The doctor's verdict on 60-year-old Mr Chandler was that he was in slightly better health but with a bad cough and a mild fever.

The health of the Chandlers could well be the key issue in this process.

Dr Helmi said the pirates did not seem to be beating their captives, but equally they did not seem to care about making them comfortable.

"They are being held under trees, in very hot conditions - 39C.

"You cannot imagine the food they are eating and the water they are drinking - very bad."

Even so, there are no reported cases of pirates killing captives - either deliberately or through neglect.

The pirates say that negotiations are under way, but like any complex business deal, these things take time.

Somali sources close to the pirates say negotiations "are under way", although they refused to say what exactly was being discussed.

But the experience of other shipping companies suggests the longer the process continues, the more expensive it becomes.

There are reports of pirates delivering itemised invoices, detailing costs such as fuel for their boats, food for the captives and gunmen, ammunition, satellite telephone calls and so on.

The gunmen holding the Chandlers will be running up similar expenses, and security analysts say they will expect to turn a profit.

The Chandlers video statements - and the visit by the doctor - are almost certainly a part of the captors' strategy to put pressure on their family to find the money.

The gunmen are in total control, and nobody gets in to see the hostages, or no message gets out, that they do not think will help their cause.

There seems little doubt the Chandlers are suffering, but just as doubtless is the fact it suits the pirates for the world to know it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Pirates in the Media: February 6, 2010

Pirates are all over the place in the hearts and minds here in America, the Gasparailla festival was last week, rumors about Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides which begins shooting this summer, are weekly news items, and for those of you inclined to add a bit of piracy to your everyday life, here are some video game options to bring high seas action to your living room.

10 Iphone/Ipod apps with piratical themes

The Final Tales of The Secret of Monkey Island are available for the Wii.

Captain Kidd's Cannon will be on display at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis

and Little Big Planet has Pirates of the Caribbean content.

But Pirateologist, you might ask, what line item can you offer to amuse and possibly terrify me RIGHT NOW that proves that the high seas are more than simply sackboys, monkeys and plastic swords for the kids? The answer is here, and I leave you with this note so you are forwarned about the dangers that still lurk beneath the oft halcyon surface of the murky deep.

That's right, let that one sink in for a moment.

After some initial communication difficulties because of his distress, the crew was able to determine the patient had been fishing from the ship when the sting occurred.

Air crewman Geoff Abrahams said it was an "incredible case".

"Realistically, what are the chances of being stung by a jellyfish when you are safely on board a bulk carrier, 25 metres above the water," Mr Abrahams said.

"This is one of the most fascinating tasks I've worked on."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pirates in the News: February 4, 2010

Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, emerging successful systems gotta propagate until they reach the boundaries of their sustainability, therefore pirates gotta hijack cargo on the high seas.

That said, Pirates have captured ships from Libya, Cambodia, one full of Hyndais that the car company seems bent on spinning into PR soundbites, one from Singapore, etc... In fact it has reported that pirate attacks are almost doubled between 2008 and 2009. There is plenty of teeth gnashing, gun waving, and suggestions of a harder line approach and analysis of why even with increased military intervention piracy continues to grow.

Somali based pirate rings are expanding their areas of operation, and increasing their numbers because what their doing is revitalizing the economy of their region. Not only are they setting up financial exchanges and investing in real estate, but the depleted fishing along the coast of the Horn of Africa is recovering from the overfishing by international companies, and fisherman along the coast as far as Kenya are able to increasingly maintain their livelihood, all thanks to the threat of pirate attack in those waters.
Fisherman in Kenya have reported bumper catches of shark and shellfish because commercial fishing boats from China and Japan have been scared away.

Now the fishermen are able to catch up to £200 worth of fish per day in an area where the average daily earnings are less than £5.

Like other tax-free areas that maintain their autonomy in complex regions, Somalia's quasi-independent Puntland is seeing a rebirth nourished by the thriving piracy industry.

Ransoms continue to be paid and ships continue to be released with efficiency, even when one sees high profile incidents like shootouts once ransoms have been paid where pirates take out their own compatriots. The simple truth is that most tankers captured are ransomed and released, at increasingly profitable rates for pirates. It's no picnic for sailors but piracy is too effective and distributed to be going away any time soon and shippers have to adapt.

While the military efforts against piracy are continuing to capture and thwart some attacks, finding their resources stretched, the question of what one does with a captured pirate is no less clear than it was two years ago. Different countries suggest that international tribunals are the answer, individual countries try the pirates their warships capture but run into problems both political and legal with a frequency that makes it difficult to create any single method for trial in any one country, much less internationally. Some pirates are simply released because no country wants to try them. The most famous pirate on trial in the USA is still Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, on trial in New York, who I will be devoted another post to later this week.

Interpol is trying to track pirate money, and claims to see no links to al-Qaeda, despite concerns that radical islamist groups are associated with Somali pirate groups.

On a personal note, it's a LOT easier to find pictures of Somali Pirates compared to 2007 when I started this blog and I kept having to reuse that one picture of two guys in a skiff with an AK.

While the idea of "what to do about pirates?" is still very present in dialogue in the west, a group of Somali pirates recently reached out to groups working in Haiti, trying to figure out how they can donate to relief efforts.

The “pirates” typically redistribute a significant portion of their profits
among relatives and the local population. In their operations, the “pirates”
urge transnational corporations that own the cargo confiscated to pay back in
cash as banks can not operate in Somalia.

”The humanitarian aid to Haiti can not be controlled by the United States and
European countries; they have no moral authority to do so. They are the ones
pirating mankind for many years,” said the Somali spokesman.

When observing how piracy has invigorated that area of Africa, despite the parasitic nature of the economy, one cannot help but think that maybe the pirates are on to something.