Sailing, Sailing, over the bounding main (just not off the coast of Somalia, please)
For those of us drawing our knowledge of pirates from Captain Hook (and Smee) in Peter Pan; kids trick-or-treating in bandanas and eye patches; black and white Errol Flynn movies rerun on Turner Classic; the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland; and the second line of the Marine Corps Hymn, the deadly news about Somali piracy that’s been coming our way for the past several years is unsettling.
Last month, it was the murder of a group of well-to-do West Coast yachters, doubling as missionaries (they handed out bibles along their way), who were shot by trigger-happy Somali pirates when the U.S. Navy got a bit too close.
This week, it’s the Dutch couple saved; the Danish family captured.
Whatever the root cause of piracy off the coast of Somalia – some claim its payback for foreign commercial fishermen encroaching on Somali waters, or for illegal dumping of hazardous waste in those waters - it’s certainly taking a terrible toll on international merchant shipping and international pleasure boating.
But one of these, it seems to me, is pretty much purely and entirely optional and avoidable.
And that would include both the pleasure-boating Dutch couple who were rescued yesterday, and the pleasure-boating Danish family that was taken hostage earlier this week, bringing the family’s dream vacation sail around the world to an abrupt end. The Johansen family, which includes 3 children between the ages of 12 and 16, have been removed from their personal yacht and placed on hold, on shore or in a moored pirate ship, along with over 600 hostages in what I’m quite sure can most accurately described as hellholes.
Hostages languish in these hellholes until a ransom deal is worked out.
Which typically takes a while.
A pleasure-boating British couple was held for over a year until they were finally freed last fall, a $1M ransom having been paid.
It’s not as if any of these folks weren’t aware of the dangers.
In the case of the two American couples killed during February, I read that the yacht owner had considered shipping his yacht through the danger zone, but decided against it.
The Danes also weren’t sailing blind. They were sending daily updates to naval authorities – presumably the same naval authorities that had warned “I am the master of my fate” vacationers to stay the F out of the Arabian Sea - and:
On Feb. 19, the Johansens blogged that they had drawn up "a piracy plan for who does what if we are attacked." They gave no details of the plan. A day later, the family members wrote that they spotted counter-piracy patrol planes, and added: "It is reassuring that they look after us."
I realize that there are times when we all suffer from a surfeit of self-absorption, but there’s surfeit and then there’s SURFEIT. Just why did these folks think that counter-piracy patrol planes were looking after them? And did they think to ask themselves why the counter-piracy patrol planes – presumably at a cost to someone (taxpayer, consumer) – would be looking after little old them?
The Johansens were aware of the American yachters, if not their fate:
"Of course, we talked quite a lot about it (the American hijacking) but this is far over thousands of kilometers away and the Arabian Sea that we sail in is the size of Europe," the family said in a posting Feb. 20 -- two days before the Americans were killed. (Source: CBS News.)
I know, I know, folks should be able to sail in international waters without having any unnatural harm come to them. Sure, if they go under with a rogue wave, or get attacked by a school of great whites, that’s one thing. But to be captured by pirates? Agreed: this should not happen.
But it did.
And it seems to me that, at this stage in the game, the risks have been pretty well known for a pretty long while. So if someone decides to delude themselves that the sea is so vast and their boat is so small that pirates won’t spy them, well… I’m not saying it serves them right, or that they deserve to die (especially the Johansen children, who certainly didn’t engineer themselves into this mess; but not the parents, either). But I am saying that anyone setting sail off the shores of Somali for the hell of it is imprudent, feckless, reckless, and guilty of the very worst in judgment.
Yes, they should have the right to sail unfettered. But, as the Johansens themselves acknowledged on their blog: there’s a lot of ocean out there. Surely they could have found other places to sail.
During World War II, I’m assuming that yachtsmen everywhere decided it probably wasn’t worth yachting across the North Atlantic hoping that a convoy would protect them from a U-Boat. Maybe they had to content themselves with paltry lake sailing, or ship-in-a-bathtub, for the duration.
Me, if I see a sign on the beach that says Warning: Rip Tide – no lifeguard on duty – stay out, I’m staying on the blanket.
If I read in the news that for three nights in a row, a 5’7” blond wearing a green parka had her throat slashed in Pi Alley at 8 p.m., guess what? I’m not going to count on the BPD to protect me. I’m staying home.
Skull and crossbones on the container? Guess what? I’m not drinking it, even if I’m thirsty and it looks just like Polar Diet Orange Dry.
And I’m not heading to Mogadishu on vacation anytime soon, either.
I certainly hope that the Johansen family is freed.
What they’re feeling now has to be sheer terror, compounded in the case of the parents, I’m sure, by the abject guilt they must be suffering at the thought that they have exposed their children to such profound risk.
As for anyone else with a sail boat and a hankering for adventure, why don’t you do yourselves a favor and stay away from the Somali Coast. (I hear Lake Michigan’s nice this time of year: no pirates.)
Happy Birthday, Jack – you cutie pie little wonder-dog.