Nov. 11th: Maritime Piracy

UPDATE: The date was changed to the 11th, as the venue is closed on the 9th.

Jeremy will lead us in a post-Halloween discussion of piracy, its history and geopolitical background. Jeremy currently provides risk mitigation solutions to shipping companies who operate in areas where piracy is a problem, and he used to cover the issue as a journalist. Here is a piece he wrote for the South China Morning Post on pirates in the Malacca Strait. [PDF]

Maritime piracy is currently most widely known off the coast of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden. But it is also a problem in the waters off the coasts of Nigeria, Bangladesh, Indonesia and elsewhere. It is a problem that has been with us with for hundreds of years. This recent excellent piece in the New Yorker is a great historical overview and also provides some insight into the culture of pirates.

The conventional wisdom is basically that these guys should be blown out of the water. But a closer look reveals a more nuanced problem than just bloodthirsty criminals out to plunder and kill. In Somalia, piracy has been a result of the breakdown of the Somali state and inability for any central government to protect local waters from illegal fishing. With their livelihoods threatened, local fisherman realized that they could make money hijacking ships and demanding ransom from the companies that own them. Typically these pirates aren’t killing anyone; in fact, they tend to treat their hostages rather well.

Much as with other problems, unless the root causes of piracy are addressed, no just solution will be reached. We’ll talk about how the example of the Straits of Malacca supports that argument. Once one of the most pirate-infested waters in the world, many of the pirates were wiped out in the tsunami of 2006. The Indonesian government smartly capitalized on a unique moment to establish peace with the Aceh rebels, who used piracy to fuel the insurgency, and piracy has fallen off significantly since then. A lasting solution—though possibly far-off—is probably the only way to solve the Somalia problem.

Somalia is getting worse though as it suffers from an Islamic insurgency that is threatening to topple the weak central government. That insurgency is being fed by jihadists who are exiting the Afghan/Pakistan region due to pressure from drone strikes and the Pakistani army and are moving holy war to other areas. Will Al Qaeda be able to regroup in Somalia with pirates providing a valuable financial lifeline? Will they revisit the plans they coveted once in the Malacca Straits to execute a spectacular attack that would cripple global shipping, this time in the Gulf of Aden? We’ll use the piracy question as a precursor to talk about lawlessness, terrorism and the breakdown of nation-states.

The venue will be China One, 50 Avenue B, between 3rd and 4th street. China One has really good (and organic) Chinese food for decent prices, so a bit of eating this time as well.

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