Europe Has Pirate Fever!

05/11/2009 2:00 PM |

This week in Paul D’Agostino’s funtime tour through the European press, it’s pirates, pirates, PIRATES!

Where do Paul Auster, Peter Pan, Michael Jackson and failed states come into semantic confluence with an Italian mercantile vessel?

In Neverland, of course. With Somali pirates hosting the party.

Indeed, despite significantly heightened international efforts to curb ship-jackings in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, and despite several recent arrests of supposed pirates — including the prized, now NYC-based survivor of the Maersk Alabama debacle, Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, whose official age at one point ranged from 15 to 26, and who here looks very happy and here rather hard — acts of piracy in these heavily trafficked waters have spiked dramatically this year, leaving little room for seafaring respite but ample opportunity, perhaps, to practice swashbuckling.

The Dutch

At the time of this writing, news out of Amsterdam relayed the most recent pirate capture. According to De Telegraaf, in “Nederlands schip gekappt,” the MV Marathon, a Netherlands Antilles-flagged vessel whose cargo happened to be tons of coke (the kind that fuels machines, not parties), was seized with ostensibly little episode, evidence that “the regulatory measures in the Gulf of Aden are not effective enough.” A spokesperson from the Koninklijke Vereniging van Nederlandse Reders (KVNR) , an organization representing Dutch shipowners, opined similarly: “Though we have said it before, better and more effective steps must be taken.”

Quite probably, yes. New preventive measures might be a good idea. Perhaps the ever-elusive ‘kind that don’t suck’ would be worth a shot.

The Germans

Unless ‘surprising’ new methods of piracy, so to speak, have complicated possible solutions even more. For according to a report in Der Spiegel, “Attacke am Horn von Afrika: Piraten entführen deutschen Frachter vor Somalia,” the pirates can be a bit sneakier than one might think. Less than 24 hours before the Dutch MV Marathon was captured, a German freighter, the MV Victoria — despite traveling as part of a convoy, and notwithstanding attempted aerial intervention by a helicopter sent from a nearby Turkish frigate — was seized, also with ease, 75 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen. Blame for the facility of this capture can be attributed, in part, to the ship’s “relative defenselessness” thanks to its “weak motor” and low-slung wall design, but the pirates’ attack this time featured a certain departure from protocol, something of a lame yet well hyperbolized boo-ya maneuver, an “Überraschungseffeckt,” that caught the Victoria’s crewmembers unaware: too crafty for their skiffs, the pirates struck in the afternoon rather than in their usual “early morning hours.” According to a German marine officer, “the pirates were using an element of surprise,” hence their oh-so-quick success.

At the same time, getting around to ‘work’ later in the day isn’t awfully sneaky, is it? Diurnal procrastination is probably quite common to all of us, in fact, whether it’s a matter of putting off laundry-doing, column-writing, gym-going or, in this case, German-freighter-jacking. So in a sense, the afternoon attack allows us to relate better to the pirates and, more importantly, loosely proves that getting up early isn’t the only way to get ‘ship’ done.

In other recent endeavors, however, the pirates didn’t have it so easy.

The Spanish
As reported in El Mundo, in “El juez decreta prisión para los siete piratas de Somalia,” seven pirates were apprehended, on the same day the Victoria was taken, by the Marqués de la Ensenada, a frigate deployed to the Gulf of Aden under the aegis of Operation Atalanta, an EU-administered effort to prevent attacks and bring pirates to justice. This latter task, however, given the intricacies and lack of useful precedents in international maritime law, might prove as daunting, or at least as onerous, as the former. At any rate, the charges will likely be illegal detention, violent robbery and use of arms.

The French
French contribution to Operation Atalanta, according to Le Figaro, has been particularly successful of late. Under the leadership of Captain Jean-Marc Le Quilliec, who commands a frigate called the Nivôse, French forces have not only displayed a curious knack for capturing eleven pirates at a time — which they did twice in about two weeks, once on April 15th and again on May 3rd — but they also managed to intercept a bateau-mère, a mothership, and apprehend a few more suspects. In one of these recent takes authorities found, on just one skiff, “two Kalashnikov automatics, numerous munitions cartridges, a rocket launcher and five rockets.” With so much payload on such a small boat, it seems safe to assume that the mothership’s inventory was significantly more impressive.

The only logistical downside to this capture, in sum, is that it took place before 8am. So maybe getting an early start is a good idea after all.

Kalashnikov Crunch for breakfast, anyone?

The Italians
Or how about a little divine intervention? Thusly described, after all, was Italy’s successful foiling of an attempted ambush on one of its larger gas ships, a Finival-owned mercantile vessel with a circumstantially amusing name, considering it was nearly taken by pirates.


Nothing to do (lacking that extra ‘never’) with a flying boy who won’t grow up, of course. And on that note, nothing to do with Michael Jackson either.

Yet as La Repubblica implies, in “Somalia, battaglia navale contro i pirati,” someone or something both magical and quite famous intervened to help the Neverland evade harm: “The crew was terrorized, fearing they might end up hostages of the pirates like the crew of the Buccaneer [an Italian tugboat held hostage since April 11th], but, as if it were a scene from an action film, salvation arrived from the sky.” In this case, however, heavenly salvation came in the form of a helicopter of the Italian Marines sent over from a nearby Italian frigate, the Maestrale. This was “the fifth attack on Italian ships in one month,” and according to this article’s count, attacks in the Gulf of Aden “in the first trimester of 2009” have increased tenfold with respect to last year.

As for the semantic confluence in Never(never)land of various disparate entities, there it is.

But what of Paul Auster? Well, at the time of this writing I happened to be reading his relatively recent novel of narratorial intrigue, Travels in the Scriptorium, in which one of the stories within the story pertains to an unpublished novel called Neverland.

And since it remains a mystery when and how the so-called failed state of Somalia might inscribe a new chapter into its long-fraught history – by now pirate-ridden, pirate-written and pirate-smitten – this storied link seems to hold quite firmly.
By hook or by crook. Or by Hook.