Yo Ho Yo Ho, It’s The Risk Management Life For Thee

Pirates! Arrrr, they’re teh new sharks matey. Scary! And we should rightly be worried about this pirate problem, because CNN, MSNBC and the print have been relentlessly telling us so. First it was the seizure of the quasi American flagged cargo ship Maersk Alabama, and now the pesky pirates have snared an Italian tugboat too.

Sara related some fascinating background on Maersk and its business:

…. part of Public Law 480 requires that food relief from US Agricultural surpluses, be carried in “American Bottoms” — and US Flagged and owned ships, all have union crews. This ship is owned by Moller/Maersk, which is a vast international Danish Company, but which bought an American Shipping Company, and thus is a bi-national corporation. When it carries American Humanitarian Relief Supplies, they must use a ship chartered in the US, US Flagged, and American Crew. Moller/Maersk is perfectly capable of changing the charter, flag, and crew if it is hired to deliver a non-restricted cargo. For instance, this is the Danish Shipping Company that “sold” Ollie North his ship for shipping the anti-tank weapons to Iran back in the middle of Iran Contra — the ship he took back to Denmark and parked once the story broke, and left the crew without paying their wages. Not covered in the US Press at all — the Danes had a nice little trial in a public court on the Island of Fyn, and took public testimony of all the seamen (all Danes) who were unpaid, and out spilled all the cargo’s they had hauled, and all their ports of Call. Not sure whether North ever paid his fines and got right with the Danish Seaman’s court. Moller/Maersk also was the primary contractor hauling arms to Central America back in the Reagan Days. They’ve done covert stuff for CIA for years.

Shipping, even through troubled waters like those near Somalia, is big business. Isn’t everything these days? Which brings me to the knee jerk question, one I am sure many have asked, of why these big global business ships do not simply arm themselves sufficiently to repel the rag tag Somali pirates? Seriously, the Maersk Alabama is 508 feet long and staffed by a trained and unionized crew, why can’t they fight off these pirates with AK-47s in rinky dink junks and skiffs? Insurance and regulatory liability concerns; and, it turns out, that appears to be a pretty valid explanation.

The Maersk Alabama is, as previously described, a 508 foot vessel, yet it is manned by a crew of only twenty. Between standing watch, operating the ship, and rotating downtime, there is not much capacity for defensive prowess. Even if the crew members were trained for armed confrontation, which they are not, there are not enough of them. Above and beyond that, however, are a broad range of issues militating against allowing a ship’s crew to fight back with arms:

…most companies fear crew arguments that turn heated would end in gunshot deaths. Furthermore, captured ships would yield more arms and ammunition for the pirates. Most crews would realize that deaths suffered by the pirates as they took a ship would cause retribution once the merchant ship was boarded. Moreover, port authorities do not want weapons aboard while in their territorial waters. If weapons are permitted on board (and that is extremely rare) then not just ammunition but also the firing pins have to be kept in three separate and locked locations. Thus reassembling and loading such weapons at sea would take so much time, the pirates might well have already taken the ship anyway.

All good points, but you know the international shipping business isn’t really worried about the health of its seamen. It is a risk management decision. When you take a look at the numbers, that is pretty defensible actually. Such was the basis of my use of the "sharks" analogy at the top of the post. It all sounds so alarming, and it is nice and shiny for news networks, Larry King and the like; but, all told, there is not that much "there" there. As an article from the US Naval Institute, discussing both piracy and terrorism, cogently states:

It is a nasty headache where it occurs, but its real effects on world trade and the movement of people are negligible.

That strikes me as about right. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that the insurance industry, which as we know is tethered to the Master Of The Universe financial industry, is likely getting rich off this. Of course they are:

Munich Reinsurance Co. expects insurance premiums against high sea piracy to rise, as well as the risk of piracy spreading in the world, the German company’s head of marine insurance Dieter Berg said.

At the moment the need from shipping companies for hijacking insurance is mainly because of the exposure to Somalia and Nigeria, he said.

Redirecting ships to pass by the Cape of Good Hope could cost a big container ship about $1 million more in costs compared with going through the Suez Canal, he said. The additional premium for every voyage though the Gulf of Aden is worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars, he said.

A U.N. source, speaking to Reuters before the conference, said the increase in the costs of ship insurance could reach 0.5% of ship values, which are typically between $10 million and $100 million.

Insurance has yet to show any sign of falling despite January’s easing in hijacking numbers, Mr. Mukandan said.

No. I don’t suspect the insurance is going down. It never does. Hmmmm, pirates or the bottom scraping scavengers that run the insurance and international risk conglomerates? Man, that is a tough call. Almost makes you want to sympathize with the pirates.

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81 replies
  1. Leen says:

    Rachel Maddow has been obsessed with the pirates. Good question why don’t they arm themselves.

  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It only takes a few RPG’s, one to take out the bridge, to stop large merchant vessels. The damage they could do to an oil tanker or LPG carrier would be catastrophic. Here’s an article with more background, written last year, from the “trade’s” perspective.

    • randiego says:

      It only takes a few RPG’s, one to take out the bridge, to stop large merchant vessels. The damage they could do to an oil tanker or LPG carrier would be catastrophic. Here’s an article with more background, written last year, from the “trade’s” perspective.

      This is exactly the reason they aren’t armed, and why arming them wouldn’t help. I hear this a lot – “why aren’t they armed”? RPGs.

  3. Sara says:

    As Bmaz explained above — these are merchant ships, not warships, and there are sea laws that do not mix the two.

    Most cargo ships these days have E. European or Third World crews, simply because they are non-union and work cheap. The conversion from bulk carriers to container ships lowered costs by deeply cutting labor costs. The on and off loading is done by crane with very few workers, eliminating many of the traditional longshoremen’s jobs. What true American Ships still sail usually have a 3rd world crew, and just American Officers. But in the case of Humanitarian Relief and Pentagon work — US Law requires American Crews. In fact if you read NGO articles for those in the food distribution business, they are hot to get rid of the American Crews so that more of the relief money can be spent on foodstuffs rather than union labor, and they lobby hard in Congress. But the Seaman’s Union also lobbies hard, and thus far they have won and kept the “American Bottoms” and “American Crews” in the Public Law 480 legislative language.

    If I were sitting in the Pentagon tonight, this would be my strategy. I would clear all the commercial cargo ships out of the area for a short time, just get them off the sea. Then I would ask pretty please all our NATO partners, and anyone else who wants to come to the party, to join us in a tight blockade of the Somali shores. Let them on shore know — nothing moves off the beach. Anything that moves gets identified, and if it is not something known, it gets shot to hell. (Take the Battleships out of storage if necessary.) Then use light cruisers or corvettes to convoy shipping out of the Persian Gulf, out of the Gulf of Aden, up from the south of Africa. All commercial ships go in convoy with armed escort.

    Not sure what to do with the ships sitting at wait for their ransom to be paid — perhaps you ransom those just to get them out of the way. But the point of a Blockade is to gain the advantage so as to negotiate from strength. You probably would not need to shoot up much before the message is clear — no control of the pirates by the tribal elders, no arrests of them, no return of ransom’s paid…well then no access to the sea.

    Now there are apparently outstanding issues, such as factory trawlers sucking up the fish from Somali coastal waters. Fine. If they negotiate then that issue will be dealt with. Very cheap to help set up some fish farms near the shore that will quickly produce as well as small fishing boats. Clearly those who fished out the stock owe something in return. The UN could assess this, and deliver compensation. Technical assistance for re-seeding fishing grounds would be possible. All the countries around the Arabian Sea are heavy into fish farming, and rebuilding fish stocks. (India in Particular). Since we don’t have any other mission for the Battleship Missouri (except as a museum) — just parking it there for a time, with one demo of what just a few shells can do to sand hills, probably would keep the pirates on land. But we should not do it unless every country in international trade with something of a navy participates in a true blockade. Goodness, maybe Hillary could even go to the UN and get a Security Council Resolution for a Naval Blockade. The issue is so simple, Freedom of the High Seas — free commercial passage anywhere outside the national limits. Nothing in International Law is more established.

    • bmaz says:

      Sara – did you see this in the last link of the post?

      In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

      Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

      Don’t know the strength of the evidence, but it sounds like it could be about right. Sadly.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    What some of the articles on this topic highlight is that as with manufacturing and services, ship owners and charterers are going to the ends of the earth to find cheaper crews. That often means less training and fewer language skills. Communications, training and planning would seem essential to the effective use of weapons against armed boarders.

    The articles also talk about insurance issues, the liability of the captain and the reluctance of owner/operators to add armed defense to crew training, or to add government or outsourced military detachments on board. They also point out that major ports often prohibit non-naval armed vessels from entering or docking.

    Some of those arguments seem self-serving. But they highlight a major problem. As on land, security and safety are the responsibility of governments. Do we really want the seas afloat with armed merchantmen?

    The issue I haven’t seen much covered is how lucrative it is for others that Somali is a failed state. Some $300 million a year in fish catch is taken from Somali waters or its exclusive economic zone. Toxic and nuclear waste and just plain garbage is dumped there. Some of it washed ashore after the 2005 tsunami, leaving hundreds of recorded dead, which means many more actually died.

    It seems like it’s about time to get the hell out of Iraq and sort out a different way to help Afghanistan and reorient our naval and military forces to combat today’s problems instead of buying weapons systems and training for another mega-war.

    Albert Einstein reportedly said he didn’t know with what weapons World War III would be fought, but that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones. To riff off that quip, I’d say we don’t know how we’re fighting all the little wars that make up World War III either, we’re just making it up as we go along.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I misremembered. I read the Hari story in The Independent, not the Guardian.

    Here’s a paper on the illegal fishing in Somali waters, which has been big bidness since about 1991, with a little material on the dumping in Somali waters of hazardous waste.

    Here’s a commentary on the Hari piece, with a short bibliography in support of his conclusions.

    And here’s an article about the dumping of nuclear waste, with a link to a January ‘09 article by Hari on the same topic.

    • bmaz says:

      Thanks Earl. You know, if you really want to harm the Somalis, depleting their fish stock and nuking their fishing waters at the same time is probably pretty effective.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Agreed.

        It suggests the developed world doesn’t care about the Somalis. It’s happy to find an undefended source of fish and a free dumping ground for stuff it can’t pay to dispose of. Most of the illegal fishing and dumping appears to come from European and Asian ships.

        One could almost say that ignoring this activity in an area of sea the size of Texas, but astride the major route to the Persian Gulf is another calamitous consequence of George and Big Dick’s “diplomacy”, in that they’ve exhausted the world’s attention and resources, and shoved a stick in the eye of the diplomatic resources one would need to do to coordinate a response to both kinds of piracy – the Somali’s and the foreign opportunists’.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          Asian nations consume vast amounts of fish, although I’m not familiar with the fisheries of Somalia, so can’t speak to where those stolen resources are sold. There are definitely markets.

          About 8 or 10 years ago, I was amazed as a friend-of-a-friend, based in Seattle, described the threats of piracy off the Horn of Africa; this person works on very large ships as a Mate, and described the threat of pirates because they are silent, starving, and could climb aboard the ships with very small weapons and take over — so evidently, this has been going on for quite some time, but we’re only hearing about it publicly now.

          This person took piracy very seriously even back then, and spoke of being on board more than one trip that had to fight off pirates in this region, so it’s no surprise to me to see Maddow have people on talking about being trained at that maritime academy about how to fight off pirates. I was decidedly under the impression that pirates could climb aboard, slit someone’s throat, and silently overtake the bridge. But I have no idea what shipping lines or cargo were involved. However, I assume that people who do this type of work have heard about the dangers of piracy. And yes, I’m sure it’s been good for the insurance business.

          Basically, if you accept statistics that predict over 90% of the world’s burgeoning population being born into the poorest populations, and if you start looking at statistics about climate change and soils depletion, and then lay over the fact of ‘failed states’, you see that this is — at core — that hideous nexis of environmental degradation, poverty, illiteracy, and population pressure.

          I’m sure Dick Cheney didn’t see this coming, just like he didn’t see the financial crisis coming.

          Meanwhile, despite Obama’s faults, at least we now have DNI Blair, and Gen Jones, and some other leaders speaking about and educating the (largely ignorant) American public that our dangers aren’t all going to be addressed with weaponry.

          And it gets scarier — anyone want to place bets on the literacy rates or educational levels of the guys on this little boat? I’m guessing slim to none.

          This is Mad Max in Thunderdome territory.

          For so many reasons, I despise Bush and Cheney. But climate scientists were saying 10 and 20 years ago that these kinds of problems (i.e., resource depletion, soils degradation, plus population pressure) were likely. And fisheries researchers have been talking about the imploding fisheries for at least 6 – 12 years now, so it’s also no surprise that someone is stealing Somali fish since the other fisheries are over-harvested.

          I’m sure that Inhofe and the other Plantation Caucus members will claim that some new missile system can deal with this, but that’s just one more example of their phenomenal stupidity.

          In a bizarre twist, some of the evangelical humanitarian groups are way, wayyyyy ahead of the Inhofe’s in connecting the dots between violence, environmental degradation, population pressures, government corruption, and militarism. But I doubt that Inhofe ever listens to anything he doesn’t already agree with -although, you’d think some of those evangelical leaders (including Rick Warren) could explain this to Inhofe. Meanwhile, he’ll fight tooth and nail for military systems that create jobs in Oklahoma and don’t do jack shit to address the underlying problems that lead to piracy.

          Shorter: Inhofe can’t seem to get his head around the Mad Max paradigm, which is too bad for all of us. Here’s hoping DNI Blair and Gen Jim Jones and Gates can help people understand the connections between shifting military budgets to the kinds of threats posed by pirates, instead of the USSR.

          Makes the Cold War look as cozy as an old Doublemint Gum ad, don’t it?

  6. JohnLopresti says:

    I read a report that enumerates several hotspots, another being Str. of Molucca; the thesis was some of the brigands actually are after contraband to merchant to folks who want to do what Padilla wanted to do. The article declared decrease in waylayings noticeably after Indonesia mustered more frequent coastguard patrols. The link has some flaws, but some of the information seems worthwhile. I think it is a complicated issue, something satellites might monitor like global air traffic controllers or spacejunk tracking.

    • cinnamonape says:

      I would have thought that the area of the Straits of Malacca and the Indonesian/Philippine Archipelago would have been immensely more complex. Multiple nations, sometimes claiming mixed sovereignity; thousands of small islands and atolls; a lot more fishing and ferry transports; more complex coastal waters (sinuous river deltas, mangrove swamps, etc. to shelter in); and a long history of piracy. Nonetheless the incidences of piracy has gone way down due to a multi-nation patrolling regime and land-action against pirate strongholds.

      I don’t understand the “prohibition” against armed security entering ports. There were Navy Seals on the Maersk-Alabama when it came into Mombasa. But perhaps there could be some ports where the boats could take on/drop off armed and trained security men for the trip through the danger zone. They could thus shuttle through in shifts and the vessels would not have to carry them through the full length of the journey. This would increase the number of trained security agents total for that stretch. Similarly there could be established convoys and naval escorts.

      Throw in a few decoys…commercial vessels manned by naval crews outfitted for battle that look non-descript…and I suspect that the piracy problem could be eliminated without actual land incursion.

      • Sara says:

        “I would have thought that the area of the Straits of Malacca and the Indonesian/Philippine Archipelago would have been immensely more complex. Multiple nations, sometimes claiming mixed sovereignity; thousands of small islands and atolls; a lot more fishing and ferry transports; more complex coastal waters (sinuous river deltas, mangrove swamps, etc. to shelter in); and a long history of piracy. Nonetheless the incidences of piracy has gone way down due to a multi-nation patrolling regime and land-action against pirate strongholds.”

        Probably one thing Bush did that worked — though it was an unexpected outcome. Shortly after 9/11 he threatened to send the US Navy to partol the Malacca Straits, because Singapore, Malasia and Indonesia had not been able, after many meetings, to agree on how to set up the patrols. (or how to pay for them). The threat worked — they got together and came up with a plan that integrated their assets and intelligence, and it very quickly cut into the profits from the “trade”. At the Malacca Straits, the point of hijacking the ships was to steal the cargo and the ships — not to get ransom, and they used some sort of technical means to electronically brand the ships, so if someone tried to sell them, repaint them, change their profile, they still got caught. China was “buying” some of the ships and a number of countries signed on to not allowing any such ship to dock in their ports. It took a major bite out of the problem. But the key was getting the three countries to combine their assets and co-patrol the whole area. Indonesia, by the way, bought the East German Navy after East Germany ceased to exist. When they first met with Bush they pleaded a poverty of ships — but at least someone knew about the East German Navy (pretty good ships) and excuses were dropped.

    • PierceNichols says:

      The Straits of Malacca and the Gulf of Aden are piracy hotspots in large part because they are the best ways in and out of the Indian Ocean. Going south around Africa or Australia is time-consuming and unpleasant — the area off the Cape of Good Hope is known for a particularly high probability of rogue waves and going south of Australia takes you into the roaring forties. Both eat fuel and are rough on the ships and crews.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Here’s a Greenpeace .pdf, which also cites the $300 million figure as the value of fish stolen annually from Somali waters. The pictures give a graphic effect the number doesn’t.

  8. SparklestheIguana says:

    …most companies fear crew arguments that turn heated would end in gunshot deaths. Furthermore, captured ships would yield more arms and ammunition for the pirates.

    You don’t say? Don’t let the NRA get wind of this….they’ll burst an artery.

  9. Rayne says:

    After Hurricane Andrew while working at a reinsurance firm, I remember the management team pondering retraction of business from coastal states due to the volume and size of losses. The president at the time said that’d be a crazy move, because people were willing to pay more for property & casualty insurance premiums after a hurricane.

    Got to wonder if this isn’t another similar “opportunity”…

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Fish factory ships operate globally. They virtually Hoover the fish up, process and freeze it until their giant holds are full, then head off to port to sell it. Because of their technology, they don’t discriminate much in what they bring up: it’s everything.

    Fishing is a global market. Check out the fish counter at Costco or major grocery store. It’s from all over. As one species is fished out, another one deeper or in a more remote location is found to replace it. Fish farming, like factory hogs or battery hens, helps little. The fish are kept in such close quarters, they live in their own excrement, are loaded with anti-biotics like factory farm animals, and lead to factory farm-size loads of parasites that invade native species.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Yup. An oceanographer I knew (who despaired so over coming conditions that he took his own life some years back) talked of watching Soviet and Japanese ships off the coasts of Oregon and Washington (where salmon used to come to the estuaries on their way to spawn) sitting out just outside the boundary zones “lined up like combines on a wheat field” catching huge numbers of fish.

      I doubt they can do that any more.

      The fishing business out-technologied itself. Those underwater sonar readings of schools of salmon and tuna made the fish too damn easy to catch.

      And fishing can be very dangerous, and it is ‘boom or bust’. People make their year’s income in 72 hours sometimes.

      (Book Salon had Dr. Riki Ott as a guest re her book: “Not One Drop” about the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. She’s a PhD in Marine Bio from Univ of Washington, which is one of the premier fisheries programs in the world. I took a fisheries course there once – loved it! – and the bottom line was: overfishing and too much pressure on fisheries has been deadly. Some of the fisheries researchers were sounding pretty catastrophic even 10 years ago.)

      So I’m not one bit surprised at people thieving Somali fishing grounds.
      Mad Max in fishing skiffs; illiterate, desperate, and not a lot to lose. Scary.

  11. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Here’s a good post by Matt Yglesias (h/t digby). The punchline:

    To…curb the Somali pirate problem you need to fight them on land. This was recognized by everyone back in December but it hasn’t materialized since nobody really wants to try to mount a serious operation to bring Somali territory under control.

    Unfortunately, the last time it appeared that a coherent de facto government was emerging in Somalia—the Islamic Courts Movement—we helped sponsor an Ethiopian invasion that plunged the country back into chaos. We need to stop doing that! You can read about Somalia in greater detail on the ENOUGH Project’s website, but the baseline point I would make is that we could start helping in Somalia by resolving to not do things that make the situation worse anymore.

    I think that’s right; our resources are tapped out, as are Europe’s. But it doesn’t address the economic utility to the West of using Somali waters for a free lunch. A convenience for us, and a long term loss to the Somalis.

    • skdadl says:

      bmaz, I’m glad that you included that last link to Hari. And thanks to earl of h for all the good links. The International Crisis Group have also been very good on political formations in Somalia for years, and fearless in identifying CIA misadventures as a root problem.

      earl of h, I thought I was going to be disagreeing with the first of Yglesias’s paragraphs that you quote, but then I read the whole thing. I have to say that I think this is sensible:

      … suggestions that the Obama administration should snap its fingers and make this problem go away are absurd. What we need to do is wait until such time as someone or other establishes some kind of coherent control over Somali territory and then deal with piracy issues as part of our relationship with that person / group / organization or whatever it may be.

      And for that reason, of course, it won’t be done.

      Yglesias is quite right that the Union of Islamic Courts was (and should be again) a “coherent” government. The ICG agreed, and warned against Western support for the so-called Transitional Federal Government, in truth a collection of warlords (sound familiar?) whom Somalis were never going to support. The UIC was not al-Qaeda before the “Ethiopian” invasion, although many warned that subverting it would make Somalia an instantly attractive prospect for al-Q.

      I don’t want to see anyone kidnapped by pirates either, but the pattern is heartbreakingly familiar. What can I do but repeat Yglesias’s conclusion:

      … start helping in Somalia by resolving to not do things that make the situation worse anymore.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Rather like adopting into foreign policy the first rule of the medical profession’s Hippocratic oath: First, do no harm.

  12. Loo Hoo. says:

    NYT.

    These pirates are fearless because they have grown up in a culture where nobody expects to live long. Pirate cells often consist of 10 men with several ratty, roach-infested skiffs. They bring along drinking water, gasoline for their single-engine outboards, grappling hooks, ladders, knives, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and the mild narcotic qat to chew. They live on raw fish.

    A pirate’s life for me?

  13. Sara says:

    Yes, Ocean dumping is a huge problem everywhere that cannot be policed with something like a coast guard. There is a garbage heap of plastic bags in the middle of the Pacific. And yes, Somalia has not had any sort of police force other than militia working for tribes and warlords for nearly 20 years.

    In the 80’s, Somalia switched sides in the cold war three times I think — it was in the Soviet Orbit for a time, with lots of E. Germans both there and in Yemen — and then it switched to the West, and both sides armed the country. Ethopia did the same thing, but when Ethopia was in the Soviet Orbit (after the overthrow of the emperor, Halli Salasie (sp)) Somali was on the other side. I know for sure that Ethopia was in the Soviet Orbit in 1986. (In July of 1986 I drank some Tokay Wine in a hotel bar in Budapest with a Soviet Officer who had just returned from Ethopia and was on his way back to Moscow. I was leading a group of Elderhostlers — and decided to stay behind from an evening event and catch up with paperwork, but in the meantime I wanted to sample the Tokay. Fascinating conversation. He hated the scene in Africa, wondered why anyone had ever fought a war for the place. Russians and Minnesotans have a similar taste in landscape and climate.) Ethopia and Somalia are bitter enemies. (Both Religion and Culture). Somalia was actually cut into thirds during the Scramble for Africa in the 1880’s — The British were in the North, the Germans had Puntland — which became British and then Italian after World War One, and the South off and on was an Italian Colony. It was the base from which Italy invaded Ethopia in the mid 1930’s. The US never took an interest until the 1980’s when the Soviets showed up — and where they showed up, we did too. Great fear during the Reagan years that with Yemen in the hands of the E. Germans, and Somali under Soviet influence, they would close the Gulf of Aden to Oil transit. Yea, we did our part to make the mess — but we came late to the party.

    As to destroying fish stocks — Have you ever seen one of those factory trawlers that just sucks up all the fish? The US never had them, but the Soviets fished out the Great Banks of Cod in the 70’s with them. Destroyed the New England and Newfoundland Cod fisheries. The Japanese use them, the Norwegians did for a time, and the Irish had some that just took everything, and made fishmeal of the fish, which was then used in animal feed and as fertalizer. The Baltic was fished out by the Soviets and Poles — virtually no fish left, and if you remember there were cod wars between England and Iceland in the 70’s and 80’s. Africa was one of the last places to be so raped — China, Japan, the Soviets — and perhaps some Spanish and Portugese did the trick on both coasts. Gradually it is all being replaced by Fish Farms, and there are few rich sources of wild fish left. It wasn’t that the US was nice, sweet and sensitive, it is just that we don’t need fishmeal to raise chickens and beef — we got lots of grass and corn.

    This is why we have to get serious about making international institutions work for a change, and exchange all the know how and technology for things like quality fish farming and nursery programs that can help restore the wild fish populations. Norway, for instance, has filled up its glacial water fjords with salmon farms, and they are getting high quality production that is totally organic. Iceland is breeding cod like crazy, much more than they will ever catch. Newfoundland is also starting a large breeding program. India probably has the varieties of fish that would help Somalia — same water, same latitude. It will take years, and hopefully there can be agreement as to catches and rules against the suction trawlers. But the EU has a huge fight over the catch size every year, with much cheating. And Congress is worse — until they started a program to buy out fishing boats a few years back, the debate was about that holy of holies — the God Given Right to Catch the Last Fish in the Sea. (Barney Frank does a great speech on this theme — it is his district.)

    While it clearly is the responsibility of those who used the trawlers in Somali waters to replace the wild fish with something sustainable, it can’t be done while those who would teach the technique are getting shot at — and since the late 1980’s that is the problem. We’ll shoot back isn’t the best answer, but not many want to volunteer to be in the sights of the guns.

    You may remember that a few weeks ago Muller of the FBI made a comment about the Somali young men who had been radicalized to go to Somalia to do Jihad. One of them Suicided. Well, it’s true — twenty left Minneapolis last November. Four returned, and they are in FBI protective custody, and a grand jury is about to bring major indictments. Some also went from San Diego and also from Chicago. This week the FBI raided about 20 money transfer outfits that serve the Somali community, taking all the records and all. Rumor is all anyone knows — and there are tons of rumors. Leaders may be a guy with an instructor’s job at the U of Minnesota and several radical imams, they are saying there are lots of connections into Canada, and at least part of it is transferring money from the ship ransoms into investments in the US and Canada — some say it is US and Canadian migrants behind the hijacking of ships, others say it is just a way to invest the “income” but apparently people from some tribes suddenly got very rich and were able to pay for houses in cash — no mortgage. These are people who, until 6 months ago, were driving cabs. Right now the person I pity in this is Congressman Keith Ellison, (our Black Muslim Congressman) because he is being called on by all sides to be protector and advocate, and once the Grand Jury returns indictments, he will have to walk right down the middle. And yes, the indictments will probably be stiff terrorism charges. Ellison just returned from a trade mission to Saudi Arabia — some think the indictments will come down next week because he will be in town. He was a Defense Lawyer before he got into Politics, so one of his jobs will be to line up the Defense Bar. And apparently he is mad as hell at some of the Somali leaders, as Coleman apparently hired one of them to buy Coleman votes last November, and may have bought a few dozen. Franken’s attorney raised the matter the first day or so after the election, but I guess someone quashed that, because the claim disappeared. Local joke — when Coleman gives up, he can activate his bar ticket again, and defend his Somali “friends.” Another version, The Reason Coleman won’t give up is because his “friends” will demand he defend them. I have several good connections into the rumor mill — but who knows which version makes sense. One reason I want this over is because one of Franken’s trial lawyers is a friend of mine — and I want to hear his story. Thread overlaps with Thread.

    • Loo Hoo. says:

      I have several good connections into the rumor mill — but who knows which version makes sense. One reason I want this over is because one of Franken’s trial lawyers is a friend of mine — and I want to hear his story. Thread overlaps with Thread.

      Oh my! Hope you can share.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Gradually it is all being replaced by Fish Farms, and there are few rich sources of wild fish left. It wasn’t that the US was nice, sweet and sensitive, it is just that we don’t need fishmeal to raise chickens and beef — we got lots of grass and corn.

      Oh, gawd! You do not want to know what I do about farm-raised fish. Ick!!!
      Basically, they all swim around in one another’s fecal matter.
      I won’t eat the damn stuff.

      Troll caught, open sea salmon have to use their muscles for the three years they’re at sea, pushing against all kinds of currents. That’s why they’re tasty and nutritious.

      The terrifying stuff is the toxins in the waters, and since it’s too late on a Saturday night for me to consider any of that and still sleep, I’ll stop there.

      Other than a final ‘yo, ho, ho!’ to bmaz for the thread.

      And Sara, wow… that tale of questionable money laundering in Mpls from Somali pirating is seriously scary — let’s just hope they weren’t leveraging CDS’s in London’s AIGFP on speculative gambles that Ship A or Ship B would have to pay a ransom. Jeebus!!

      If your suspicions are born out, then it’s like handing the Limbaughs and O’Reilly’s fresh-killed, juicy, bright-red meat. God help us.

      • Sara says:

        “Oh, gawd! You do not want to know what I do about farm-raised fish. Ick!!!
        Basically, they all swim around in one another’s fecal matter.
        I won’t eat the damn stuff.”

        Done wrong yep, swimming in shit is what you get. But check out the Norwegian Systems. They locate their huge pens in tidal areas that are also fed by glacier run-off in the Fjords. The water changes completely every few minutes. They also have built them out in the sea in the gulf stream. They use no anti-biotics, it is a totally organic system, and I can buy fresh salmon from this source twice a week procesed less than 36 hours before I buy. They fly it in fresh on ice — and my fish market gets it early morning Tuesday and Saturday. I prefer this choice because given the diminished supply of wild salmon, I’d like to support something that does not put pressure on the wild salmon that need to breed to increase that stock.

        Yes — when fish farming is done in still water, it can be dangerous and very unhealthy — but there is a clear alternative. In the south of India the Norwegians built a very similar system — it is located several miles off-shore in a current, achieving the same effect. The Norwegians also built an ice plant at their first demo project — and that has been repeated at others. The real advantage is that you can “catch” just what you need for a particular day’s market, in old style fish farming, you drained the pool, and then processed the flip flopping fish. With the off shore cage system, they use dip nets to catch just what they can sell.

        Iceland now has a very similar system for cod — and wild cod is almost extinct. The Iceland projects sell part of the mid sized cod, and then they haul the rest out into the ocean, to places known to have been thick with cod before the overfishing, but are now closed to fishing, and they release them. They see the beginnings of recovery. Newfoundland which has closed all its cod fishing is setting up the same system — half is sold for quick freezing and sale, the other half is released. We should be doing the same thing in New England to rebuild the outer banks.

        • Mnemosyne says:

          Farmed fish is advertsied as healthier, but all farmed fish, whether in still water or ocean current, are fed a mixture of grains and pharmaceuticals, and they don’t get the wild and varied diet of free fish. So, the diet pretty well negates any health benefits to the consumer–and eating a farm-raised salmon that’s been raised on corn and antibiotics is like eating beef from a feed-lot steer.

          • ShotoJamf says:

            Farmed fish creep me out. I’m assuming they farm shellfish, also? Shrimp, for example? Anyone know about that?

            • Mnemosyne says:

              I know that mussels are big aquaculture business, not sure about shrimp, although it seems to follow that those would be, too. Also.

      • Sara says:

        “And Sara, wow… that tale of questionable money laundering in Mpls from Somali pirating is seriously scary — let’s just hope they weren’t leveraging CDS’s in London’s AIGFP on speculative gambles that Ship A or Ship B would have to pay a ransom. Jeebus!!

        If your suspicions are born out, then it’s like handing the Limbaughs and O’Reilly’s fresh-killed, juicy, bright-red meat. God help us.”

        No, I think it actually says that careful FBI work can succeed. The 20 young men disappeared last November, and the FBI got involved immediately, tracking plane tickets, money and cell phone calls and all the rest, and then the suicide bomber set himself off in Somalia, and they apparently had some sort of hint as to his identity — did the DNA work and quite publicly returned his remains to his family for burial. That was very difficult evidence for the Somali community to deal with — and my guess is the FBI made good progress with interviews after that. There is a great deal of public denial of it all — but it is hard to deny a bag of bones that belong to your son.

        There are many tribal and clan divisions within the migrant Somali community — and all the same hostilities in Somalia still exist among and between the migrants. This was set off by the Ethopian invasion — Ethopia is the traditional enemy, Coptic Christian that oppresses its own Muslim minority both in terms of ethnicity and class. Ethopian attitudes here are not all that different from back in Africa. So what is playing out is an extension of that invasion — with the added tidbit that there is apparently some sort of vague connection of at least one tribe with al Qaeda. Arms and money coming in from Yemen — but also money transfers from here going to al Qaeda suspected persons in Somalia.

        The pitch here apparently was “prove you are a good muslim” do Jihad. It is also a very anti-Western message, anti University, and particularly anti aspects of just plain American teen culture, such as playing basketball, listening to music, doing videos. There is also the phenonema that Somali Women are very aggressive about getting ahead — they are way ahead of the men and boys in school, and in getting into decently paying careers such as nursing, dental assistant, medical lab worker and through the University — schoolteacher. Result, 22-26 year old women are financially independent, and they have no patience for all the old country arguments, and they have in their own way become feminists. So the young men are, in many cases, denied the traditional arranged marriage, and the girls don’t want them if they are not making money and otherwise sociable. They are not interested in boys who hang around the mosque. Apparently this is common among those who fell for the “do Jihad” message.

        There is a good deal of domestic violence in Somali Married culture — but that doesn’t go over very well in Minnesota, and the women have learned all about using the shelter system in a crisis (The Sheila Wellstone Center) and if necessary getting protective orders. The Imams apparently preach beat your wife if she doesn’t obey — but the women have found the resources to say no and make it stick, and since Muslim Culture isolates women outside the family home into a seperate sub society, this turns into a very useful mutual support system. They have become very intolerant of abuse, there are lots of divorces, and wo-laa, American Courts award kids to the Mother if there has been abuse. (Very unIslamic). In fact citizenship can be denied if there is a record of abuse on the police blotter. It really puts women in the driver’s seat and is a huge gender problem for the young men, particularly if they have not assumed a reasonable American Identity. The women are all veiled of course — no outward appearance of rejection of traditional ways — that is until the girls open their purses, and flip out their car keys, and just take off. The whole FBI probe has taken place in this environment, and while the men think they are the center of the Universe — I suspect the women are talking carefully with the FBI. Unlike the boys who socialize around the Mosque, the girls and women are just as likely to meet for coffee, or go to lunch as any American Women would. And they are much more likely to have American Friends. (and the Michelle Obama thing is an earthquake for these women.) — I actually think the veils will come off soon, as at home there is already much experimentation with hair styles, clothes — anything Michelle. They want no part of Jihad or a clan or tribal war in Somalia, they are into First Lady, Wife, Mother, and Lawyer, and fashion plate. And their children will be very different — I don’t know what mix of cultures they will create, but they won’t be anything like their fathers or grandparents. But you can see the profound conflict this sets up for the boys and young men.

        • Nell says:

          OT but “thread overlaps thread”:
          This is the third thread where I’ve tried to ask a question of Sara — each time I’ve entered the thread while it appeared to be alive, but ended up being the last comment. I don’t want to come off as a stalker; if my question is something you don’t want to address, Sara, please just say so and I’ll stop asking it [of you, at least].

          Sara: “John Kerry has just hired as his Chief Investigator for the Foreign Relations Committee Jack Blum.” [BCCI investigator]

          Nell: Thanks for this news, Sara; that is encouraging. How did you learn of it?

          The lack of readily available information on staff of congressional committees and members’ offices is IMO a major mechanism for shutting out grassroots lobbying and magnifying the power of insiders.

          For instance, had someone not reported the news that Kerry (or someone on the Foreign Relations committee) hired CIA torturer John Kiriakou for the committee, there’d be no way of telling from the committee’s website or news releases.

          Do you have any tips on how to find out the names of House or Senate committee staff?

          • Sara says:

            “This is the third thread where I’ve tried to ask a question of Sara — each time I’ve entered the thread while it appeared to be alive, but ended up being the last comment. I don’t want to come off as a stalker; if my question is something you don’t want to address, Sara, please just say so and I’ll stop asking it [of you, at least].”

            Sorry, I didn’t see the question earlier. The Jack Blum information came from one of the morning interviews a couple weeks ago on Minnesota Public Radio. Can’t reference the date — but the point of the discussion was the history of congressional investigations of banking and finance matters with someone who is about to publish a book on the topic. Blum’s being hired was just a statement in the whole discussion of BCCI. MPR has four hours of public policy programs every weekday. Usually two hours on national or international matters, and two on State policy — but sometimes fun topics such as the theory of Twins Management in selecting the relief and closer pitching staff.

            I recognize Blum simply because I got fascinated with the BCCI matter back in 1987 or 88, and over the years have read a couple of books on the matter, and Blum just seems to me the kind of super focused and passionate investigator necessary for these kinds of things to succeed.

    • bobschacht says:

      As to destroying fish stocks — Have you ever seen one of those factory trawlers that just sucks up all the fish? The US never had them, but the Soviets fished out the Great Banks of Cod in the 70’s with them. Destroyed the New England and Newfoundland Cod fisheries. The Japanese use them, the Norwegians did for a time, and the Irish had some that just took everything, and made fishmeal of the fish, which was then used in animal feed and as fertalizer. The Baltic was fished out by the Soviets and Poles — virtually no fish left, and if you remember there were cod wars between England and Iceland in the 70’s and 80’s.

      When I moved to Hawaii 5 years ago, I thought I’d be in for some great sea food, being out in the middle of the Pacific & all. No such luck, although I have discovered the wonders of Ahi Poke. Fish is more expensive here than it was in Arizona.

      Besides vacuuming up all the fish, we’re using the ocean as a convenient sewer.
      Why is the world’s biggest landfill in the Pacific Ocean?
      Oh, its true there’s lots of big stuff in these cesspools. But the real story may be in the sand-sized particles of plastic. Unlike sand, however, the particles of plastic are light, and don’t sink to the bottom: they float.

      The United Nations Environment Program estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic [source: UN Environment Program]. In some areas, the amount of plastic outweighs the amount of plankton by a ratio of six to one.

      We are plotting to drown our grandchildren in garbage.

      Bob in HI

  14. Loo Hoo. says:

    So we end up with the spectacle of an American destroyer, the Bainbridge, with enough Tomahawk missiles and other weaponry to destroy a small city, facing off against a handful of Somali pirates in a tiny lifeboat. This is not an efficient use of American resources.

    Don’t tell the republicans.

    I keep waiting for a mini-submarine of some sort with special agents to save the day.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Well, fairly recently there was a “Yes, We Can!” mantra.
      Maybe we can bring it back?

  15. YYSyd says:

    The notion that firing on the “pirates” will make things safer is wrong. So far the rules have been threats and negotiation without killings and more importantly without sinking of ships. If anybody thinks that these pirates, with the resources they have, will not be able to procure RPG’s is deluded. You really do not want hostages and sunken ships as well.

    • tk1200 says:

      I guess the way I see it that if it is going to require either exorbitant insurance premiums to insure these ships against the piracy threat and/or an inordinate commitment of naval resources whether from America or some other country and we have decided it would be a better thing with respect to international security concerns to encourage some semblance of a functional central government in Somalia, then why shouldn’t the UN declare these shipping lanes to be subject to a user fee that the UN would impose and collect from the shipping companies and which they would distribute to Somalia’s central government as ships make safe passage through these waters? In other words pay the Somalian government reasonable compensation to ensure the safe passage and security of these ships and, at the same time, the UN should prohibit these ships from polluting Somalian waters so that they are capable of supporting a sustainable fishing economy for Somalia. Would this be a helpful solution in any way?

      • eCAHNomics says:

        A couple of years ago, the U.S. had Ethiopia overthrow the only semblance of a govt that Somalia has had for decades. All on account of a handful of alleged terrists.

  16. freepatriot says:

    I’m more worried about wall street pirates

    the “Crimson Permanent Assurance” lives

    sailing the wide accountancy

  17. bobschacht says:

    BTW, I’m listening on C-SPAN to U.S. vs. Moussaoui oral argument before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on 1/26/2009.
    The Wikipedia article on Moussaoui doesn’t mention this appeal.
    I tried to google this, and can’t find what the outcome was. Can someone clue me in?

    Whoops. I see in a bottom comment on the TV screen that just came on that the 4th Circuit has not yet issued its decision on this case, which could result in a new trial.

    Any comments?

    Bob in HI

  18. jimhicks3 says:

    Ya’ll should check out the book –
    Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution
    By Robert H. Patton. Pantheon Books, New York, May 2008. 291 pages. $26.
    Maybe the Somali’s are just trying to finance their fledging democracy like old GW did!
    It’s a fun read. Our first millionaires came from the financiers of that trade.
    jh3

  19. 1970cs says:

    The crews are not armed because the owners of the ships do not wan’t them to be, much less chance of a mutiny and the ship and it’s cargo disappearing.

    An interesting thing about Maersk is that it’s the only major container shipping company that allows it’s equipment to operate in and out of Africa. In the same way rental car companies get nervous about taking their cars into Mexico.

    • Minnesotachuck says:

      If you click on the cut-away view picture at the Comment #41 link, a high resolution of it comes up that allows you to zoom in. By doing so you can see the airlock in considerable detail.

      • ShotoJamf says:

        Our tax dollars at work.

        On the other hand, the guys that run these things are impressive and professional. The BUDS guys are something else…

  20. GregB says:

    The GOP talking point in regard to the pirate attack is as follows:

    “This is the first time in over 200 years that the US has suffered a pirate attack. It is a sign of Obama’s weakness.”

    Of course if this were the first few months of a Bush administration, we would be watching an ABC mini series about The Path to Piracy detailing how Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright ignored piracy and left poor President Bush with a sea full of pirates.

    -G

    • ShotoJamf says:

      Don’t these assholes ever get tired of parroting the party line?

      (Sorry. That was a rhetorical question.)

      • GregB says:

        Do pigs ever tire of rolling in mud?

        It is what they do.

        -G

        P.S. Tell your winger friends that Glenn Beck was sent to Fox from CNN to get them all to go to tea parties so they can be filmed and photographed in public attending an anti-government rally. Then they can be identified as enemies of the state.

        Bmaz @ 52. LOL.

        • ShotoJamf says:

          “Tell your winger friends that Glenn Beck was sent to Fox from CNN to get them all to go to tea parties so they can be filmed and photographed in public attending an anti-government rally. Then they can be identified as enemies of the state.”

          That should keep them off the streets.

      • ShotoJamf says:

        I’d say there’s about a 100% chance that Xe (aka Blackwater) has been making some “sales calls” lately.

  21. politicat says:

    Seriously, the Maersk Alabama is 508 feet long and staffed by a trained and unionized crew, why can’t they fight off these pirates with AK-47s in rinky dink junks and skiffs? Insurance and regulatory liability concerns; and, it turns out, that appears to be a pretty valid explanation.

    The thing that struck me first about this is that expecting any type of crew to fight off a bunch of pirates is like expecting a cashier to fight off a robber demanding the cash in his or her drawer. If you own the store, you might pull out the shotgun, but if you just work there, why on earth would you take a bullet for the boss’s money?

    I realize bmaz was not arguing this point — I am arguing against anyone who would make such a point.

  22. KayInMaine says:

    The crews on these ships don’t arm themselves because sometimes what is contained on their ships could explode because of the spark of a gun! Haven’t you ever seen the sign, “NO SMOKING” on some of these ships? It’s there for a reason.

    A gunfight out on the ocean is not going to solve anything. The FBI was called in for good reason, because it’s better to handle this kind of thing with words, rather than opening fire just to get it over quickly. This is why the captain most likely gave himself up so his crew could get away safely. A good captain does that.

  23. timr says:

    For the main Q in the blog. Why don’t we just arm the crews? Well, an easily researched answer. In 2 parts. 1-the laws of various countries where the ships port mostly have quite strict gun laws which would mean that weapons that could be equal to those of the “pirates” which would have to be on the same scale as a heavy platoon of soldiers. Machine guns and medium distance weapons.Are Illegal. 2- the biggest reason-according to The Economist-liability. The old what if of the insurance game. The ship owners do not want to have the liability of having guns on board.
    My question is why on earth are captured pirates taken to any country for trial? There is no question of guilt, so WTF? A trial? To establish what exactly? They are pirates, they have weapons in their boats and no fishing gear. So whether or not they have attacked a ship is inconsequential. If people are 1- in a small open boat 2-300 miles from shore, 2-they have automatic weapons ie AK 47 and RPG 7’s. They are pirates.
    Solution from my POV. Execute them. Sink their boat and kill them on the spot. Do not arrest them, take them to a 3rd country, jail them, have a trial. We have become-the 1st world industrial countries-too civilized and those who live much closer to the knife edge of survival have no respect or use for “civilized” behavior. Survival consumes them. Respect for others must, in their eyes, be earned by being the strongest. Weekness is showing respect for life, not killing your enemies. Courts and “justice” mean nothing. The gang MS-13 is a good example. We treat them as if they were civilized. Arrest, trial, jail. In the “civilized” countries(G-7 or G20 as example)being arrested tried convicted and jailed means something. Thru the “rule of law” we are supposed to feel shame for our crimes against the society that we choose to live in, jail is punishment. Gangs such as MS 13 see these civilized accouterments as both BS and weakness. They live closer to the knife edge and the result is a pack of rabid wolves set among the sheeple.
    So, what to do about the pirates if we are too “civilized” to kill them? They have no fear or incentive to stop what they are doing.
    Aside. A story from back in the day. Back in the 70s in the mideast when arab gangs(terrorists or whatever) were taking hostage any westerner they could lay their hands on because they knew that the govts would cave in and pay them off-see the current gang/terrorist org. in Columbia. They were as I said taking hostage most every non arab they could catch. Except for 1 nationality. These people were never taken for ransom, they were left alone. If one were taken he was released with many apologies. Who were they? Citizens of the USSR. I spent some time in these areas and so have firsthand knowledge. Those from the USSR were left alone because they(gangs/terrorists) understood that the USSR would simly start killing people until their people were released. I saw this in the “golden triangle”(Cambodia/Thailand/Laos poppy growing area) during the 70s. In the mideast in the late 70s. Before Afghanistan. The USSR attempted the same tactics in Afghanistan, but in that case the Afghans hated invaders more than they feared the tactics of the USSR.
    So what should we do with the pirates? I say kill them. every time. Do not arrest, try, convict, jail them. Just kill them. Every time. The French understand this. The Russians understand this. We-US-do not. Even when we torture people we still do not understand what total war really is. But we had better learn.

    • newtonusr says:

      It’s Easter, and I’m too lazy to dig up maritime law on the subject. I leave that to you.
      And I am just asking – what makes you think that, barring public disclosure, the US doesn’t ‘dispatch’ pirates in the manner you proscribe?

  24. bmaz says:

    BREAKING NEWS: Captain Phillips has been released according to CNN just now. Supposedly three pirates killed, one in custody.

    Much discussion by blithering idiots to follow.

    • Petrocelli says:

      That’s Cable Noise for ya … making a mini- serial out of every possible new item. I’ll just add 2 thoughts.

      1. 3 killed, 1 wounded and Captain Phillips unhurt … looks like the work of SEALS.

      2. Warm Hugs to the Phillips’ household … I think that Easter this year will be just a little bit more special.

  25. galvestonbob says:

    We can think long or short term. Short term, there will be more Americans killed by crazy shooters than by pirates. No question that the pirates could explode a tanker with a RPG whenever they want to, and that arming crews is little help. Unless the organized mercantile nations want to shut down all Somali fishing, which seems unlikely, they can’t tell a pirate ship from a legitimate fishing vessel. This piracy is free lance bottom up work which can’t be stopped by arresting or killing a few “pirate leaders” although our press will eagerly report that our military have captured or killed “pirate leaders” when their Pentagon contacts pass the word.

    The International shipping business is a big problem. One of the more serious issues is that the amount of air and water pollution caused by international shipping is truly unbelievable. Air pollution from the world’s ships may be similar in amount to that from all the world’s cars & trucks- nobody knows because nobody measures it. Do you think that a UN resolution to stop ships flushing their tanks (while there ahs been attention to cruise ships, freighters & tankers are a much bigger problem) and burning cheap high sulfur fuel will have any effect? Companies and countries relying on food and other imports from China assume that trans-pacific trade will increase. You don’t go through the straights of Malacca to get from China to our West Coast, but if international credit collapses completely and corporations can’t insure their ships, there won’t be much US-China trade.

    No doubt, our Congressional idiots (Inhofe is only the most visible) may propose using F-22 junkplanes to attack Somalia, but military action can’t solve this problem, unless we were to invade and occupy Somalia with hundreds of thousands of troops, more than we now have in Afghanistan and Iraq combined, for a decade. Please read the recent NOAA report concerning serious health risks from ship pollution, which focuses on ship caused air pollution. Diesel emissions are much more harmful to the animal body (not just lungs) than gasoline exhaust, both are fairly similar in terms of carbon footprint. Just for fun, you can Google diesel exhaust & brain. Here is one of the very few newspaper stories that even mentions the NOAA report:
    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/fe…..4223.story

    You might also read John Robb’s global guerillas blog. It’s a bit melodramatic and overdrawn, as when he announced that the government of Mexico was about to collapse, but he isn’t crazy. Robb points out that we assume that increased connectivity and planning (Internet, financial integration, just in time shipments, etc.) will accelerate human progress and our economy (for the benefit of the financial sector). Huge increases in connectivity make the possibility of an extinction event (cataclysmic Black Swan) much, much higher than in the past. We may see increasingly frequent periods of extreme and prolonged system failure. Our present financial connectivity is without precedent; comparisons to historical experience like those who relied on the Black-Scholes equation (has to do with derivative pricing, it wowed Greenspan & Summers) may be falsely reassuring. Much of our medicine is made with Chinese ingredients, which are not inspected and may be cut off in the event of system failures. Victory gardens, wind and solar power have much to recommend them.
    http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/

    Can democracy work when Congress passes thousands of laws each year, and only a handful are actually read by those who vote? Not bloody likely. The problem with demonstrations against the war, for healthcare, etc. is that they are too often spasms of enthusiasm, which are not sustained and involve only a few thousand people. The media will continue to give us American idol, Bristol Palin and discussions about whether or not Obama bowed. If 200 people called each Congressperson’s office every working day and said “What are you doing to make us less dependent on foreign oil, gas, food and chemicals, everything that is imported?” something might happen. However, that requires 436 x 20 or 87,200 people; they would have be from the member’s own district, i.e. people who could vote against him/her. I’m not optimistic that such people can be found outside the two coasts and even if they can I don’t see how any single government or the UN can control air or ocean pollution or global warming. We hear about the need to preserve jobs for junk mail services, I’m surprised that we don’t hear about the need to preserve jobs for prostitutes and casino employees.

  26. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    The Bush gangster regime hired the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia and to try and destroy the Islamic Court Union back in 1996. We are always interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, and always trying to stop any progressive movement or any form of good self government. See the Wikipedia entry on the Islamic Court Union for more details. Apparently the Bush regime preferred anarchy in Somalia to muslim-run moderate form of goverment. What is the Obama Administration planning on doing to return a legitimate form of government. I doubt that sharia law would look kindly upon acts of piracy by anyone in Somalia.

    Further comment:
    Somali pirates? Pretty small potatoes compared to the US imperial land-pirates, who are currently aiming their guns at thirty million Iraqis, demanding that that let US oil companies be allowed to steal their oil. We are also pointing our guns at some sixty million Afghanis, demanding that they allow US oil companies to build pipelines across their country. And if they have the gall to resist, we bomb them, wound them, maim them, imprison them, blindfold them, torture them and kill them.

  27. BruceWebb says:

    Three reasons not to allow merchant crews to be openly armed:

    Gun running
    Terrorist infiltration
    Mutiny

    How would you control for any of the three given the combination of a free (actually owner paid) supply of guns and effective lack of security checks on the crews? $1 or $3 million dollars goes a long, long way in Somalia. but equally it goes a very long way in most of the countries that provide crews for the typical Liberian or Panamanian flagged freighter owned by some Greek or Pakistani shipping company.

    Traditionally there were relatively little control on civilian mariners hitting the bars and stores of most sea ports, you showed your papers and were good to go. That attitude would have to change in a hurry if every guy coming down the gangplank potentially had access to an AK-47 handy for sale into the black market or for some quick little terror action. I am not sure the Port Masters of Sydney, Amsterdam, Shanghai, New Orleans, Long Beach or most certainly Mumbai would be really happy to see steady streams of armed vessels with crews from who knows where tying up to their docks on a daily basis.

    For example here is a picture of the Port of Houston as seen from the Houston Ship Canal.
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/eca45/
    Do you really want every tanker or freighter entering or leaving your local port having access to high powered rifles? Port security is a nightmare even now, I don’t think we need to add hundreds or thousands of guns in the hands of Third World merchant crews entering major world ports to the mix.

  28. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    Sorry, make that 2006, the year that the Bush regime paid the Ethiopian government to send in their army into Somalia to try to destroy the Islamic Court Union.

  29. Nell says:

    Thanks, Sara. It really is encouraging to think of someone with Blum’s background geting down to work.

    But I’m a bit bummed about the happenstance and roundabout way you learned of the hiring, because it reinforces my perception that there’s no transparency about committee staff.

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