Wednesday, April 8, 2009

We live in interesting times...

Those wacky Somali pirates are at it again. What's interesting to me is the similarities between Somalia today and the Caribbean in the early 18th century.

The final heyday of Caribbean piracy was around 1710-1730. The European powers had previously been fighting a lengthy, global struggle known as the War of the Spanish Succession. At the end of the war, the powers hastily discharged hundreds of sailors in their Western colonies, creating a glut of men who knew how to fight and sail, but not much else. At the same time, an incredible amount of cargo - including gold, slaves, rum, and sugar - was passing through the Caribbean isles. As many of these isles were essentially lawless, pirate outposts quickly sprang up and buccaneers began to prey on all the rich merchant ships.

In Somalia, there are large numbers of unemployed men who fought in the decade-long civil war. Somalia itself remains the prime example of a failed state, and the government's power barely extends beyond Mogadishu. And billions of dollars in international cargo pass within sight of Somalia's coastline thanks to its proximity to the Suez Canal.

The critical factor that ended the age of buccaneering was the rise of the British Royal Navy as an international police force. But the Royal Navy didn't destroy the pirates at sea; they captured and occupied the pirate bases, like Nassau in the Bahamas. In 2009, it seems very unlikely that any government, including the U.S., would be willing to occupy Somalia to end the new age of piracy.


J. Miller said...

Because most of these pirates just seem to want cash ransom rather than cargo, I wonder what nasty options are available to *poison* the cash. Wouldn't it be nice to make Somali merchants afraid of taking cash from pirates?

I'm guessing several treaties forbid most Western governments and their citizens from lacing the cash with biological agents, slow-acting chemical agents, and radiation. It doesn't have to be lethal -- how about noravirus?

Perhaps this is only a fool-me-once tactic, if feasible, but I like the prank-ish nature of it.

Richard Cook said...

Funny money is one way to go, but like you said, it would only work once.

If this continues, I wouldn't be surprised if we start reading about shoot-outs between pirates and more heavily armed ship crews.