It’s time to end Indian Ocean “Adventures”

With news that seven Danish sailors, including three children aged 12 to 16, had been captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean on Thursday, February, 24, it’s time to reevaluate the legacy of four Americans shot to death by pirates in those same waters off eastern Africa just two days before the Danes issued their distress call.

In the obituaries of the four Americans killed aboard their sailing boat in the Indian Ocean this week each was praised for being “adventurous,” “great sailors,” having a “zest for life” and “passion for the high seas.” They were not “thrill seekers” and “knew the risks involved and accepted them.”

While not wanting to intrude on the mourning of their friends and relatives, having spent time in the Indian Ocean at the height of pirate season two years ago, watching cargo boats and tourist boats being wrapped in broken glass and razor wire and armed to the teeth with mercenary gun crews, all I could wonder when I first read the account of the “Quest” and its crew being taken hostage was … What were they thinking?Apparently headed for Djibouti, the four sailors knowingly sailed alone – rather than in a pack or “rally” of private yachts, which they had previously joined – into the most dangerous waters on the planet. Two hundred and seventy five miles off the coast of Oman they were caught and boarded by a mother ship carrying 17 pirates. Despite the arrival of a U.S. Navy ship, within 24 hours the four were shot dead.

With monsoon season over, the Indian Ocean is calm again, making this prime time for piracy. The four sailors aboard the “Quest” could not have missed the news that ships are being hijacked in that part of the ocean on a weekly basis. There are currently more than 800 hostages still being held, most crewmen of freighters and oil tankers. Private yachts are increasingly being attacked; a British couple was recently released after one year in captivity and a $1 million ransom paid, raised by friends back home.

Private boaters have been warned repeatedly by the world’s navies to stick to designated shipping lanes and to travel in groups. At any given time there are 30 warships patrolling the northern Indian Ocean – from the European Union, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, India and other nations – and still the pirates are thriving. Sponsored by mafia-like gangs onshore, the mother ships and attack boats are manned by the equivalent of street gangs: Impoverished young men with little hope, armed with increasingly sophisticated electronics, boats and weaponry.

Catching them and putting them on trial, whether in Nairobi or New York City, doesn’t seem to be slowing them down.

Which brings me back to why did these four think they could skirt danger when so many before had failed?

I am the first to encourage “an adventurous life.” But good adventuring includes knowing your limits and possessing some kind of personal radar to help recognize the boundaries between adventure seeking and foolhardiness. That the “Quest” was heavily loaded with tons of Bibles, which the retired couple who owned and sailed the ship had been distributing at stops around the world during the past six years, was not enough to save them from an “adventure” gone very, very bad.

One of the four passengers was quoted as saying, “If anything happens to us on these travels, just know that we died living our dream.”

Really? That’s your dream? To sail into the most dangerous waters on the planet, be kidnapped by a gang of thug pirates and shot to the death in the galley of your sailboat? In retrospect, of course, the dream sounds far more like a nightmare.

[flickr image via Gui Seiz]

Somali pirates anchor Danish family yacht, threaten death

Now it’s a Danish family of five, including three children, that has been taken hostage by Somali pirates who vow to kill them should a rescue attempt be made. The pirated yacht, taken last week, was anchored off the shore of Somalia today.

The 43-foot sailboat was being piloted by Jan Quist Johansen along with his wife, their three children, ages 12 to 16 and two Danish crew members.

A Somali pirate going by the name of Muse Abdi said the family was transferred to another, larger pirated ship.

The decison to anchor smaller vessels then transfer hostages to a larger ship is a common practice by Somali pirates.

“They are safe. They were just transferred from the boat to the big ship,” said Abdi, who has provided information in the past. “They have been added to other nationals in another ship to avoid any possible attack.”

The Associated Press reports a Somali pirate warning that if any attempt was made to rescue them, they would meet the same fate as the four American yachters slain by their pirate captors last week. Like Scott and Jean Adam who were killed by pirates last week, the Johansen family was aware of the pirate-infested waters but believed warships patrolling the area would protect them.

Somalia has not had a functioning government in place since 1991, a situation that has allowed pirating to grow and become ever more dangerous as time has gone on. This is the first known incident where children were taken hostage.

Flickr photo by RubyGoes

Somali pirate ordeal ends with death of religious Americans

They were on year seven of a ten-year around-the-world voyage, passing out bibles from New Zealand to Alaska to Fiji and all points in-between. Their voyage came to a tragic end today as Somaili pirates shot and killed captives Jean and Scott Adam of Southern California and Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle of Seattle.

US forces had been trailing the captured m/v Quest when shots were heard on board this morning. A special forces team engaged in a brief firefight with the armed pirates then confirmed: all four hostages had been shot.

The incident is raising questions and demanding answers from governments around the world.The killing of the four Americans only puts a brighter spotlight on a growing problem as pirates become more violent and abusive to hostages. Previously, the bulk of damage done by Somali pirates has been financial. Holding ships for ransom as they attempted to pass through hostile waters, they currently hold 30 ships and more than 600 hostages. Historically fetching millions in ransom, the turn to killing raises questions.

Did the hostages try to fight back to the point that they posed a greater danger than they were worth in potential ransom? Were the killings retribution by pirates for the capturing of some of their own recently?

AOL Travel tells us “The U.S. Navy had been following the hijacked yacht with an FBI negotiating team on board. When shots were fired aboard the Quest, a Navy special ops team boarded the vessel and discovered the travelers had been murdered.”

We may never know the reason for the senseless deaths of the Americans simply traveling to share their beliefs with others. We do know that pirate activity has made waters around eastern Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea a deadly place to be. Diplomatic steps have failed. Peaceful nations continue to be outraged over events.

Over the weekend, President Obama was advised of the situation and authorized use of force against the pirates “in case of imminent threat” said White House Press Secretary Jim Carney.

The big question being asked worldwide over the ordeal: What happens next and what ends this?

Recent events suggest an increased effort to capture pirates may be key.

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10 breeds of pirate – Somalis to Vikings to Japanese Pirate Ninjas

A yacht carrying a quartet of Americans was recently seized by Somali pirates, the latest in a string of hijackings that reaches back millenia. According to MSNBC, the seized yacht, the “S/V Quest,” is owned by Jean and Scott Adam – a couple on a worldwide quest distributing bibles. While they no doubt expected to spread the word far and wide, they were certainly not expecting to be boarded by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman in the Arab sea. The waters along the horn of Africa are a hotbed of piracy, and travelling by boat in this region is about as reckless as booking a 2 week holiday in Mogadishu.

The Somali pirates are the modern day face of an enterprise that has existed for centuries. Piracy has been part of seafaring culture since man first took to the open water. As early as 1400 BC, Lukka sea raiders from Asia Minor began committing acts of piracy throughout the Mediterranean. These early pirates were known simply as the “Sea Peoples.” Aside from these early innovators of seaward sabotage, many groups and clans have sailed under the banner of terror on the high seas. The Vikings innovated the craft, the Barbary corsairs elevated it to an art, and the pirates of the Caribbean made it famous. Many other groups, operating in the shadows of history, took to piracy on the high seas. From dark age plundering to modern day terrorism, some of these groups of pirates include:The Vikings
Hailing from Scandinavia, the Vikings pillaged much of western Europe and northern Africa. The Norsemen covered a range from Russia to Newfoundland in their graceful longships, and pioneered piracy in the middle ages. They were the original world explorers – helmeted plunderers with a thrist for adventure.

The Wokou
Around the same time Vikings were wreaking havoc in Europe, these Japanese pirates, known as Wokou, began terrorizing the Chinese and Korean coast. Most of these pirates were Ronin, merchants, and smugglers. Allegedly, some were even ninjas, throwing a paradoxical spin on the classic “pirate versus ninja” debate. Why choose when you can just be both?

Barbary Corsairs
In response to the moors being ran out of Europe, many took up residence in northern Africa. Some of these displaced seamen became pirates and raided towns and vessels in Spain, Italy, France, and beyond. The infamous Redbeard, Oruc Reis, was a notable Barbary Corsair, and sacked many coastal Italian towns.

Madagascar Pirates
Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar was a lawless place during the golden age of pirateering. Since no European countries colonized Madagascar, the island was an ideal spot for pirates to lay low and plot the next heist. Allegedly, the pirate utopia of “Libertalia” was located on Madagascar. According to pirate lore, “Libertalia” was a communist colony governed by pirates for pirates, where all shared in the booty.

Orang Laut
Originally from the Spice Islands and settling in modern day Malaysia, these sea gypsies began raiding the strait of Malacca over 500 years ago. Eventually, they fell into a protective role, policing the waters for the Sultanates of Johor and Malacca. Unlike many pirates that called solid ground home, the Orang Laut lived exclusively on the water.

Classical Carribean Pirates
The pirate cliche is the Caribbean pirate, and the spokesperson is Johnny Depp’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Caribbean pirate era began when Aztec gold bound for Spain was seized by pirates in the early 16th century. This escalated into the golden age of pirateering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Most Caribbean pirates came from European origins.

Bugi Pirates of Sulawesi
The term boogeyman originated from the orchid shaped island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The Bugi pirates of southern Sulawesi were so feared that Dutch and English sailors brought home tales of horror to scare misbehaving children. The Bugianese were among the first to explore Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Sea Dayak of Borneo
Notorious headhunters, the sea dayaks terrorized the waters of the South China Sea, targeting vessels passing from Hong Kong to Singapore. In the mid nineteenth century, James Brooke and an army of Malays wiped out many of these pirates. Today, these people are known as the Iban and live in the old rainforests of Borneo.

Chinese Pirates
The most powerful pirate ever was a Chinese woman. In the early 19th century, an ex-prostitute named Cheng I Sao commanded a fleet of more than 1,500 ships – larger than many navies. According to CNN, she was an adept business person and controlled her fleet via a proxy named Chang Pao. She developed spy networks, created economic agreements with mainland farmers for supplies, and generally revolutionized the piracy business model. Her crews stalked the waters of the South China Sea.

Somali Pirates
The modern pirate hails from Somalia – a crossroads of the derelict. With more warlords than laws, Somalia is a disaster state. The government has been more a fleeting idea than a real thing for the last 20 years, and it shows. Warlords control fleets that operate out of coastal towns, amassing ships, arms, and wealth. The pirates use small boats and assault rifles to board both passenger and cargo ships, taking hostages, booty, or both.

Piracy causes roughly $15 billion in losses worldwide per year. The most trafficked areas for modern day piracy include the South China Sea, the Gulf of Aden (off the horn of Africa), the Niger Delta, and the infamous Strait of Malacca.

flickr image via cesargp

Piracy reached record levels in 2010

Pirate hijackings in the Red Sea and nearby waters reached their highest levels ever, the Associated Press reports.

Pirate hijackings worldwide claimed 1,181 hostages and 53 vessels, a rise of ten percent since 2009. Of these, 49 ships were taken by Somali gunmen in the Red Sea or nearby waters in the Indian Ocean. Somali piracy has been the biggest problem area despite an international fleet of warships trying to stop it. Somalis have taken four more ships so far in 2011 and currently hold 31 ships and 713 people captive.

Somali pirates generally use speedboats to come up alongside freighters, tankers, or smaller ships and then threaten to open fire if the captain doesn’t stop. The pirates then board the vessel and radio in a ransom demand that can amount to millions of dollars. Prisoners are generally not hurt, although eight were killed last year. Usually the ransom is paid.

Because naval vessels have been able to stop some attacks near the Somali coast, pirates have moved operations further into the Indian Ocean where they’re harder to catch. Other problem areas include Nigerian, Bangladeshi, and Indonesian waters.

Somali pirates claim they have been forced into piracy because their fishermen have been pushed out of work by illegal fishing by foreign vessels and illegal dumping of toxic waste by big corporations.

If you’re worried about piracy, stay away from the Red Sea area, and check out our handy tips on what to do if pirates board your ship.

[Photo courtesy Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky , U.S. Navy.]