Pirates ≠ Romance

Arrrr mateys, I’ve suffered yet another keel-haulin’! I don’t know whether Christian Semler of Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung (which abbreviates itself on-line to “taz.de”) actually took notice of my recent series of piracy-blogposts (amounting to something of a mini-pirate craze, I’ll admit), but in any case he attempts to throw some cold water on my whole “James-Bond-fights-pirates” notion in his piece Crisis-Sea without Romanticism.

“Everybody loves the skull-and-crossbones,” he begins – hey, think of Errol Flynn, think of Johnny Depp! But we need to realize, he continues, that these pirates operating off of the Somali coast are not “desperate fisherman” (verzweifelte Fischer) but rather “a professionally-run business, run by gangsters and financed by serious businessmen.”

(Actually, that BBC article on these pirates that I cited in the previous blogpost does list “ex-fishermen” as an important component of these pirate gangs. There’s no mention there about how “desperate” they might be, but they are termed “the brains of the operation because they know the sea.” Oh, and from everything I’ve read the Somali pirates also do not display the “skull-and-crossbones” flag, or any flag for that matter. That’s either because they rely on sneaking up on ships and taking them by surprise to capture them, or because they have yet to hire a proper media advisor – or perhaps both.)

(UPDATE: And then again, if they are so objectionable, why is it that venture capitalists [are investing] in Somali pirates? H/t LOLFed.com.)

But Die Tageszeitung is a distinctly left-wing newspaper, in a left-wing country (by American standards), and even operating out of headquarters located in a distinctly left-wing quarter (Kreuzberg) of that country’s capital (I mean Berlin, of course), so Semler’s rhetorical fire does not stay on the pirates for long. The “Great Powers” get a swipe for their supposed responsibility for letting Somalia deteriorate into the sort of mess that allows such pirates to operate with impunity, for sure, but the ship-owners themselves hardly come away from his scrutiny unscathed. “They often sail under flags-of-convenience [Billigflaggen], pay starvation-wages when they pay at all, have contempt for environtmental rules and/or transport war-materiel into crisis-areas.” Wait: aren’t they among the victims here? Or, if they are really so evil as Semler seems to believe, can we at least start to sympathize with the Somali pirates’ own claims that they are merely a “coast guard” operating to repel these rapacious capitalists from their country’s waters?

Pirate Jurisprudence

Finally, Semler devotes some considerable attention to the issue of the basis upon which these pirates can be prosecuted by the German warships that have been sent – authorized by a UN Security Council resolution – to deal with them. And there he also sees a problem, since formally-speaking these pirates are not enemy soldiers but rather simply criminals – and it is the German police and justice systems that are authorized to deal with criminals, not the German armed forces. “Under no circumstances may police powers be granted to the [German] Federal Navy,” he writes. If you think about it a bit, you can easily understand his concern: that vital dividing line between the armed forces and police has not only been of considerable concern in Germany’s own notorious past, but is also a contemporary issue for many critics of the Bush administration, alarmed at the recent establishment of a “Northern Command” administrative structure enabling operations for the US armed forces within the US itself.

As Semler himself reports, the German Defense Ministry has taken steps to address this concern, namely including on those ships it is sending towards Somalia actual police officers to take custody of any pirate-prisoners, who then would be tried by the Hamburg criminal court (and presumably jailed in Germany if convicted). But this strikes him as an absurd set-up. Why not just start a convoy-system for merchant ships instead? he suggests.

Well, that did (ultimately) succeed against the German U-boat threat in both World Wars I and II. Tell you what, though, Herr Semler: what if we also change the Kreuzberg traffic rules so that you are only allowed to drive to and from work every day in convoy?

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