Saturday, April 5, 2008

Piracy on the High Seas

It may sound like something from the distant past but piracy at sea is still a problem in some waters, most notably off the north-east coast of Africa with regular attacks on vessels of all types, from busy freighters to luxury yachts.

Yesterday there was news of another attack with the seizure of a large French yacht off the coast of Somalia but in recent times piracy has become even more common. On February 1st of this year a Danish-owned tug, the Svitzer Korsakov was attacked and boarded by up to 20 heavily armed men, also off the Somalian coast. The crew were captured, including a 68 year old Irish engineer, Fred Parle. They were held for a total of 47 days and nearly all their personal possessions were taken by the pirates who had demanded a ransom for their safe return. It is not known whether that ransom was paid, but some newspapers reported that up to US$700,000 was paid over for the release of the crew.

Late last year a Korean freighter was taken over by pirates but was retaken by the crew after a deadly struggle which left several pirates dead and crew members injured.

Modern piracy is less romantic than the swashbuckling stuff we all learned in our youth. There are no parrots or gold doubloons but ransoms can be just as valuable any crock of gold. In fact modern piracy is deadly serious and no joking matter. It just goes to show that life on the sea can be dangerous and challenging.

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