Lost at Sea

By Charles N. Dragonette

To the Editor:

In "Terrorism Goes to Sea" (November/December 2004), Gal Luft and Anne Korin set out to make a case for their vision of energy security and the challenges facing it. Unfortunately, by uncritically repeating myths, half truths, and unsupportable assertions of an alleged nexus of piracy and terrorism, they miss an opportunity to provide a useful context in which to discuss broader issues of global maritime awareness and national maritime security.

Piracy has clearly not gone away. But no known trade has ceased or even been rerouted because of pirate depredations, nor are insurance costs driven by them. The authors' assertion that the International Maritime Bureau's 445 reported pirate cases account for a bill of $16 billion does not stand up to simple arithmetic. In fact, an eye-watering average of $38 million is lost per incident. Given that most pirate incidents result in the loss of only a ship's stores, the numbers are unsupportable.

The pirate-terrorist nexus is becoming a favorite speculation of maritime security consultants. The myth that pirates are hijacking ships to learn how to drive them for future September 11-style attacks has been around since at least early 2004. But it does not withstand the test of veracity or logic. The attack on the Dewi Madrim, the case most often cited (by Luft and Korin and others), was in no way different from other attacks by pirates in southeastern Asia: the crew was immobilized, money and equipment were stolen, the ship was "handled" in some minimal way, and the pirates left with their loot. There is no evidence that it was a terrorist attack. Moreover, logic argues against such an interpretation: hijacking would be a very inefficient way to get training, which would be good only for an identical ship in identical conditions. And in any case, the sobering reality is that no specialized training is needed to drive a ship into a bridge, a port facility, or another ship.

The so-called al Qaeda merchant fleet has been a staple of threat scenarios for even longer than the terrorist-pirate link. But it has as little foundation in reality and has never been blamed by relevant authorities for ships stolen on the high seas and anonymously returned to service.

The authors' area of expertise is clearly in energy security, but while floundering in piracy and terrorism they have lost their way. After arguing that pipelines and chokepoints are vulnerable, they then recommend a Kra Canal or trans-Israel pipeline to mitigate risk, apparently unconcerned that these methods will create their own vulnerable chokepoints. A fuller look at the maritime aspect of energy security, without the pirate-as-terrorist sideshow, would have better served to further discussion on an important issue. Charles N. Dragonette

CHARLES N. DRAGONETTE

The author is an authority on piracy at the Office of Naval Intelligence. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the ONI.

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