Sunday, May 1, 2011

"The Arms Race Against the Pirates"

From Business Week:

As insurers prod shippers to hire armed guards, firefights at sea may become more common
On Apr. 14 the International Chamber of Commerce reported that piracy at sea had hit a high. In the first three months of this year, according to the Chamber's International Maritime Bureau (IMB), there were 142 attacks, the most in the first quarter of any year since the bureau began keeping track in 1991. Somali pirates were responsible for most of these attacks, which have increased sharply in number and level of violence since 2006, when Islamist authority on Somalia's coast began to crumble in the wake of a U.S.-backed invasion by Ethiopian troops. Last year, pirates used guns in at least 243 attacks and took 1,181 hostages. They're now armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. They are taking bulk cargo carriers and oil tankers along with their crews and demanding multimillion-dollar ransoms.

To deal with this 21st century version of an ancient threat, ship owners, often at the behest of their insurers, have resorted to tactics old and new—from razor wire, fire hoses, and safe rooms to long-range acoustic devices, laser dazzlers, and, most recently, armed guards. They have little choice: While international naval forces have stepped up their patrols—creating an Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor through the Gulf of Aden in 2009—pirates have responded by widening the scope of their operations, launching their skiffs from mother ships far out at sea as well as from the coast. As a result, the shipping industry has largely been left to fend for itself in some 2.8 million square miles of ocean. "The Indian Ocean is basically the rawest Wild West," says John S. Burnett of Maritime & Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC) in London....MORE
"Mace and Vomit: The Latest in Anti-Pirate Tech"
The pirate business has attracted our attention since the beginnings of the blog....
"Somali sea gangs lure investors at pirate lair" and "A comparison of Piracy and Private Equity"
Oil: Somali Pirates Seize Supertanker, Smoke the Khat, Head for Home
Somali pirates set up "agencies" on three continents
Obama Reaches Out to 'Moderate' Pirate Community (and we plan to make a buck-o, or two)
UN Warns Piracy Threatens Somalia Lifeline
...Two things.
1) I didn't know a Navy had to ask permission to kill a pirate. You really can learn something new every day.

2) The New Yorker story, The Pirates’ Code, has a link to a recent paper by economist Peter Leeson called "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization ":

“Nature, we see, teaches the most Illiterate the necessary Prudence for their Preservation . . . these Men whom we term, and not without Reason, the Scandal of human Nature, who were abandoned to all Vice, and lived by Rapine; when they judged it for their Interest . . . were strictly just . . . among themselves . . .”

—Captain Charles Johnson (1726-1728: 527)