Yachting in False Bay

Article: Vanity Fair on Somali pirates

In the last couple of years the pirate attacks taking place off the coast of Somalia have slightly reduced in frequency and success rate, thanks to fairly aggressive anti-piracy measures taken on board the vessels traversing that stretch of water, as well as to the presence and activities of warships from various international navies.

William Langewiesche (author of The Outlaw Sea) wrote for Vanity Fair in 2009, describing an attack on a small French cruise ship called the Ponant. At the time of its hijacking, the Ponant had only crew on board, a complement of about 30 people. Langewiesche is an outstanding journalist, thorough and detailed, with a knack for pacing.

The crew of the vessel escaped unharmed (this won’t spoil your enjoyment of the article), and apparently there was much trumpeting and self-congratulation in France. The truth of the matter is that once pirates have seized a vessel, it is extremely difficult for naval or airborne forces to do anything productive to defuse a pirate attack if there are hostages on board.

If anyone had saved lives it was the pirates themselves, along with Marchesseau [captain of the Ponant], and the shipowners in Marseille, Rodolphe and Jacques Saadé. By satellite phone they had succeeded with negotiations in an evolving global dimension that lies beyond the reach of government and its conventions. For all its firepower and training, the French Navy was neutralized by the fact that Ahmed [the pirate leader] never threatened to start executing the hostages, and that for whatever reason he actually cared about their welfare. As a result, the best the French Navy could do was stand by, eat well, and serve as bagmen for the money. It was successful at this—maybe more so than other navies would have been—but the claims that were subsequently made of a French national victory were exceedingly thin.

(In the article Langewiesche also touches on one of the issues that concerned him in The Outlaw Sea, namely flags of convenience. The Ponant had never visited its so-called home port, a French territory in the South Pacific. The flexibility of and loopholes in the regulations concerning what flag a ship may fly are contributing factors to the general state of anarchy and mayhem that prevails on the high seas… Even if we’re not aware of it all the time.)

Read the full article here. Highly recommended!

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.