Dec 3, 2008
Where be the treasure?
The word pirate has several meanings. One of them, according to Dictionary.com is:
a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea.
This is, technically, the appropriate word to use for the people who have been terrorizing ships sailing in waters near Somalia. Though I have to admit, for me anyway, Disney and Johnny Depp have successfully rendered this word unusable in any serious context. Every time I hear one of these stories about “pirates” I picture Jack Sparrow sailing up along side an unsuspecting ship and charming his way aboard. That is NOT what is happening.
In the last year there have been nearly 100 attacks on ships sailing the waters near Somalia. 40 of those attacks were successful, resulting in the ships being boarded and hijacked and the passengers and crew members being held hostage for ransom. The most recent attack was on a luxury cruise ship that fortunately was able to outrun their attackers.
Somalia is a country on the eastern tip of the African continent. The people of Somalia are starving and desperate. They have been caught in the crossfire of tribal feuding and all out civil war since the early 90’s. There is no central government in Somalia. Different regions of the country are ruled by opposing factions. The piracy trade has flourished there because it offers the destitute citizens a chance to make some money to feed their families. The pirate kingpins get rich and the local officials get their share of the booty. All other legitimate trade in the region is at a virtual standstill because of the danger associated with travel to that country, especially by ship. It’s like a vicious circle with no end in sight.
May I suggest we come up with a new word and permanently relegate the word “pirate” to the world of fantasy and make-believe. Let’s call them “sea marauders” or “sea bandits” instead. But, I guess even those words sound whimsical. Maybe there is no good alternative and I will just have to quit thinking about the Pirates of the Caribbean every time I hear or read one of these stories.