Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pirates Hijack Saudi Supertanker: Not the Brightest Idea?

It's a familiar plot device in several genre:
  • The cattle rustler who steals a herd belonging to "Vengeance" Sutton, the biggest cattle baron in the state
  • The pickpocket with the score of a lifetime: "Icepick" Grogan's numbers receipts for the day
  • The cutpurse who relieves a shabby stranger of his pouch, and finds some very odd jewelry
    • Mordu the Necromancer wants his tools back
Somali pirates may have finally hijacked the wrong ship.

Pirates Anchor Saudi Supertanker off Somali Coast

The Saudi supertanker Sirius Star was carrying around 2 million barrels of oil. That's about a quarter of a day's output for Saudi Arabia. Not exactly chump change.

The pirates almost certainly want money in exchange for the supertanker, its cargo and crew.

The House of Saud wants them gone.

Pirates, Ransom, Common Sense, and History

The Somali transitional government's prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, says that shipping companies should stop paying ransom to pirates. (CNN) Sounds reasonable to me. Giving pirates money when they hijack a ship isn't what a behaviorist would recommend, if your goal is to have fewer hijackings.

It's easy for me to say that: I don't have captive relatives. Some Ukrainian families seem to have raised money for a ransom (The Standard), and I sympathize with them. I'd want my kinfolk back, too.

On the other hand, it is probably a good idea to stop the pirates. And paying them, so they can hijack more ships, isn't the way to do it.

We've been through this before. A few centuries back, the Barbary Pirates had a lucrative business going, until an upstart former English colony sent in the Marines.

I know: quite a few people feel that it's 'simplistic' to think that military action might be considered. I'd just as soon have the Somali piracy issue resolved through sweet reason alone. But I doubt that the pirates will give up their profits, and think it's unlikely that many countries and companies will have the hard clarity of vision it takes to not pay ransom.

Not the Best Time to Insult the House of Saud

I imagine that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques was already in a less-than-sunny frame of mind, what with dropping oil prices. Under the circumstances, I'd say that the Somali pirates could have picked a better time to steal his ship and his oil: insulting him in the process.

America's Stake in Somali Piracy

There's some truth to the tired old 'it's all about oil' slogan. In common with every other industrial and post-industrial culture on the planet, America needs petroleum to keep running. We're working on alternatives, but right now oil is important.

Which is one reason why the American Navy is helping keep an eye on the Somali coast. The USS Destroyer Howard is, as far as I can tell, still stationed there, along with warships from a number of other countries.

USS Howard (DDG 83)
(From the official website of the USS Howard)

I don't have a problem with that. The Howard's mission is "to conduct prompt, sustained combat operations at sea in support of carrier battle groups, surface action groups, amphibious assault groups and stands ready to become an integral part of interdiction forces." ("USS Howard's Mission") The current task, monitoring a hijacked Ukrainian ship, sailing under a Belize flag, seems to be part of its mission.

But, if there's trouble somewhere else in that part of the world - hardly unlikely these days - either the Somali mission will have to be abandoned, or the American Navy will have one less destroyer to work with.

Related posts: In the news:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.