July 11, 2011

Pirates ... Yar!

Due to the piracy problem around Somalia the government is floating the idea of advising British shipping companies to put armed guards on their vessels, since the Royal Navy is no longer up to the task of defending the shipping lanes after 60 years of neglect. This is not as far fetched as it may seem as there are armed merchantmen sailing the world's oceans today, when nuclear fuel is shipped from the reprocessing plant at Sellafield it goes on a pair of ships, so that they can help to defend each other, each of which is armed. Perhaps we are about to see a return to the days of the East India Company with armed flotillas of merchant ships duelling pirates out on the high seas, and knee breeches. Or maybe not.

At the moment the piracy business, and it is a business, will be quite an attractive one for any Somali old enough to pick up a Cutlass. The potential rewards are huge, but the risks are little more than that would face a legitament fisherman. Getting a prosecution for piracy in a court is to difficult that what normally happens is that they are taken back to Somali waters and release. If they are picked up by the navy of a particularly soft country, like the UK, there is the danger they could even demand asylum and so get themselves a life in the west sponging off the welfare state.

The targets are generally not the ship's either, what they are after are the crews so that they can be held to ransom. This is a very old business model, and one that was used a lot on the Barbary coasts. The European powers of the time that were the pirate's prey tried many methods of getting rid of them such as simply paying protection money only to find that once you have paid him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane. In the end the solution was to take the battle to the pirates by blockading bombarding their home ports which turned the risk/reward equation decisively against further pirate activities. But a return to that is a even less likely than a return of knee breeches as it would require a political establishment with balls.


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