I posted this as a comment [8 Feb ’11] to Attainable Adventure Cruising’s Post on “Trouble in Paradise.” The topic is “The World Wide Piracy Problem for Cruising Yachts.”
Nothing below is intended to be political. It is simply my perspective. It seems to me we have four things at work here.
First, Nature, whether human or otherwise, abhors a vacuum. Piracy fills the vacuums created by the retraction of imposed power. Whether it was the end of large-scale imperialism or the Cold War or you name it, our power imposers are focused elsewhere, and until piracy is a problem for those in power, it will exist, and in purely piratical terms, prosper and flourish. In the piracy regions, clearly local power has contracted if it ever existed in some.
Second, To have fire one needs a triangle of heat, fuel and oxygen. The heat of poverty/greed, the fuel of unsecured wealth, and the oxygen of freedom of action will keep piracy burning until at least one is removed by an entity with sufficient power, reach and desire to apply it.
Third, small beer depends on the keg. Most of the off-the-beach, independent pirates can live very high on the warthog for ransom amounts that would buy a cruising boat or two. The ransoms being demanded by the more organized, aggressive, heavily armed and farther ranging are still small beer when one considers the global economic context. $10 million is way down in the balance sheet round-off error of the shipping industry writ large. Until sufficient merchant seamen decide to take up farming rather than endure the piracy risk such that ships cannot be crewed, the ransoms will remain a fee passed on to the consumer.
Fourth, so what to do about it? For better or worse, my wife and I have lived in large cities since 1980. We know there are neighborhoods one does not transit under any circumstances (Rule one, if the restaurants have heavily armed guards either side of the door, facing inside and out, you are in pirate territory.). Both cities’ pirate territories have required very significant detours. And some of those detours have their own risks, and all add expense. It simply is part of the fabric of life. There is so much to see and do in all the places remaining, we give it little thought. We just don’t go where we are on the menu. It’s a, “here there be dragons,” thing.
Is this passive? Yes it is. I had a full military career, and I know I cannot possibly travel well enough armed to ensure the odds are as much in my favor as they are taking a costly and time-consuming detour. I know I cannot join a convoy of sufficient scope and scale to defeat a determined and well armed adversary. I know I cannot depend on my government to help. Not because they are feckless, but because governments need governments to work with, unless they declare war on pirates. I don’t expect anything from them even close to this.
The pirates of the Spanish Main, the Barbary Coast, the Sulu Sea all threatened the core interests of nations under political or economic stress. Piracy today, for the most part, threatens large multi-nationals that can suck up the costs and take care of themselves. Or it threatens “genteel adventurers” who don’t have any reason to go anywhere near pirate waters other than self-indulgence. Yes there have been instances where oil or weapons cargos have prompted action. In each of those cases, the action drove pirates in the direction of less lucrative, softer targets less likely to generate more than a negotiation (care to guess who)?
Leaving one’s territorial waters means accepting accountability for nearly the totality of one’s own safety, whether the threats to it are human or otherwise. While I would very much like to live in a detourless world, no human ever has. I don’t care to see the world return to massive, treasury draining power projection. I do believe the only part of the piracy “fire triangle” I can reasonably and personally affect is to keep me and mine outside of their fuel and firearms range. As to ransom, I pay one annually called taxes.