Sunday, July 27, 2003

Yo Ho?

In the minds of most summer moviegoers, piracy is little more than historical legend and fantasy. Just this last week, however, the world authority on maritime trade, the London-based International Maritime Bureau, released a report declaring that violent pirate attacks have hit an all-time high. According to the Straits Times, between January and June, there were 234 incidents of piracy, a 37 percent increase. One-quarter of all of the attacks occurred in the waters of Indonesia: pirates boarded 43 ships there and hijacked four vessels.

In "Anarchy at Sea," (The Atlantic, September 2003), William Langewiesche portrays the oceans as increasingly beyond governmental control and organized gangs of criminals and terrorists becoming ever more bold on the high seas. Langewiesche writes: "The most ambitious pirates hijack entire ships: they kill or maroon the crews, sell the cargoes, and turn the hijacked vessels into 'phantoms,' which pose as legitimate ships, pick up new cargoes, and disappear."

A critical chokepoint of world trade is the Strait of Malacca, through which Japan brings 80% of its oil. Singapore's Business Times reports that attacks increased in this narrow 550 mile waterway to 15 attacks in the first six months of 2003, compared to 9 in the same period last year.

Security in these waters is critical to the war on terror. Late last year, video footages from al-Qaeda strongholds in in Afghanistan showed the terrorist network had been spying on Malaysian marine police in the Malacca Straits. An attack on a supertanker in the Straits, similar to that carried out against the French Limburg off the coast of Yemen last October, could seriously disrupt world trade.

Shiver me timbers, indeed!

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|| headland, 10:50 PM


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