Friday, April 10, 2009

Maersk Alabama captain tries to escape; French hostage killed

It was a day without complete success in dealing with two hostage incidents involving Somali pirates, one American, the other French.

Undated photo of Maersk Alabama
(from Maersk Lines)

The captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips, attempted to escape from his captors last night. According to reports, Phillips jumped into the sea, possibly in a bid to have nearby American naval personnel pick him up. Unfortunately, the pirates re-captured the captain and continue to hold him. They are said to be asking for $2 million in ransom for his release.

Capt. Richard Phillips
(Reuters/Phillips Family)

Meanwhile, French forces went after the pirates holding five people aboard a yacht that was seized last Saturday by pirates. The Tanit was heading towards the Zanzibar Archipelago, skippered by French couple Chloé and Florent Lemacon. Also aboard were the Lemacon's young son and another couple. According to the BBC and Reuters, French officials decided to act after negotiations with the pirate captors broke down yesterday. A rescue team was sent to board the yacht and free the hostages, but in the ensuing engagement Florent Lemacon was killed, along with two of the pirates. Three other pirates were captured. No word on any injury to the others.

Florent Lemacon with family aboard Tanit prior to capture by pirates
(from Lemacon's blog)

While all this was going on, the Norwegian freighter Bow Asir appears to have been released today. It had been held since March 26 (see my earlier note on this here).

It's too early to speculate on what went wrong in the French engagement or to even criticize their actions while there are many other hostages currently being held by pirates. Similarly, some are questioning the manner in which the U.S. is responding to Phillips' situation, even going so far as to label this a failure of the Obama administration. I would say that these views are questionable and being made far too early, and without a full picture of things. Without sounding too harsh, remember that we are talking about one individual being held by armed captors in a lifeboat. There are over 220 other mariners from a variety of nations still in pirate hands today.

As I wrote earlier, there are lots of people offering up analyses and opinions that are often incorrect. (See also EagleSpeak's recent posting that corrects the errors in just one of these sorts of things.) Even the venerable BBC World Service put up an item today with the headline: Piracy off the Horn of Africa: out of control? It's not long, and ends with, "The hijackings are threatening to destabilise one of the world's busiest shipping lanes."

It's vitally important to remain focused and calm and as objective as possible about what's happening on the other side of the globe. That's how any professional mariner would react to a dangerous situation. Journalists, reporters, bloggers and pundits need to try this, too.

And, per that BBC report: Piracy is not out of control off the HoA. Pirates are in complete control and they know exactly what they're doing. Our responses have been, perhaps, out of control and diffused. And the activites of pirates are not 'threatening' to destabilize the seas of East Africa. That happened a decade ago. Today, these pirates have made the threat a reality.

4 comments:

Albrecht said...

why use "bills of marques" "or reprisal" or other similiar legal charters to allow the private sector to take care of the pirate problem? Been done in the past with success. Likewise we should consider piracy-at-sea different from terrorism, bank seige, etc. And we should "give in". Simply pay off to get high value ships/people/hostages out. Then bombard or blockade whatever port the pirates flee, seize the bank account(s) where the moneys are wired, and blow the pirate ship out of the water.

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