As this is being written, the Danish cargo ship Danica White is on her way home under the watchful eye of a United States warship. Some might say better late than never.
She and her crew have been held in an unknown location in Somalia for more than 40 days. They’ve been released for a reported $1m in a deal certainly brokered by a specialist in K&R, kidnap and ransom.
But the Danica White incident isn’t over for the men who endured the daily threat and terror of being hostages. Some will be able to put the experience behind them, for others it will affect their relationships with their families and friends, their ability to work and their self-respect. Even those who appear at first to put the experience behind them may find it coming back to haunt them in unexpected and psychologically devastating ways.
At this moment, the formal infrastructure does not exist to help these men. They will need counselling.
The Danica White incident will not fade from the headlines. It was never there in the first place. An English newspaperman, in the days of empire, said that one Englishman is news, six Frenchmen are news, one hundred Indians is news, but nothing ever happens in Chile. Today, every seafarer is Chilean.
However, it will be long, long day before piracy is featured on Fox News or CNN. In a sense, the news organisations, and I hate to say it, are complicit in piracy by forgetting to tell their viewers and listeners how much it costs them.
One cannot blame the media, after all, the media is reactive, not pro-active. If the industry itself stopped treating piracy as a dirty little secret, like an illegitimate son, then the rest of the world might take more interest.
When the Danica White was seized in international waters by a number of well-armed pirates operating three fast boats from a mother ship, the US navy gave chase. It gave up the chase when the pirates drove the vessel into Somali territorial waters. The warship’s terms of engagement were such that unless American lives or interests were at stake it could not continue.
Yet American interests were, and are at stake in the waters around the Somali coast. Indeed, the oil supplies of every OECD country are at stake. Yet every one lacks the political will, the courage, the cojones, to insist forcefully that the piracy be ended.
And there’s little point on making that insistence known to the Somali authorities. Somalia is a non-country with a central government that has no military force and little control beyond the doormat to its presidential palace. There are no sanctions that can be applied that could do any more damage to Somalia than its already sad history has done to its people for many years.
It has been suggested that some form of aid can be applied to wean Somali pirates away from their iniquity. But it is the warlords who rule Somalia who operate the well funded and well-organised piracy system, men with such power in their hands over the Somali people that any aid funding would go into their own pockets, and their greed is such they would still retain the power to send their subalterns to sea to terrorise ships.
One maritime website has suggested that ship’s officers should go around armed. It’s hard to conceive of any weaponry a ship’s officer could use against missiles with a range of 3,000 yards or 50 calibre cannon that can put a hole through the hull from a mile off. Rambo does not belong on a ship’s bridge.
There is certainly a need for anti-piracy training for seafarers, to identify threat before it becomes a threat and take appropriate action. Sadly, there should also be training and preparation for what to do, how to act, and how to stay alive once the pirates have control of the vessel.
And it has to be said that if a tiny fraction of the technology used in Iraq was applied to the Somali coastline and the adjacent waters the interests of America, the developed world and, more importantly, the seafarer would be better served.
Recently, and much belatedly, but not unexpectedly in an organisation not known for being fast on its feet, the IMO, supported by other maritime organisations, has expressed to the United Nations an immediate need to resolve the piracy problem around Somalia.
As it happens, having been born in a Europe just out of a devastating conflict, and having lived under the constant threat of nuclear war between two countries, neither of which was mine and in neither of which did I have any representation, I’m a supporter of the United Nations. Yes, it has made great mistakes born of lax backbone, not least in the Rwanda conflict, yet it has also supported, for instance, the allied incursion into Afghanistan following 9/11. As history has shown, its caution over incursion into Iraq was sadly well-founded.
Somalia is incapable of reigning in the pirates ruled by its warlords, as Afghanistan was incapable of reigning in Al Queida.
Piracy will not be resolved, and seafarers will not be defended, by packing six-guns on the bridge. It will be resolved when the UN has the cojones. It has shown such political courage before, and it’s time to show it again.