Of Piracy and Corruption

Pirates of the Carribean was pretty entertaining. ARG! However, most of you will know that still today, there are pirates out there who have managed to significantly reduce the peacefulness of sailing. They have managed to make use of the solitude and the certain lawlessness of open water across the globe, especially so in and around Somalia. And we’re not the only ones who are not able to stick to their initially planned route through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea.

Even some of the bigger commercial tankers have been forced to change routes, or were attacked and boarded and of course had to be bought free with substantial ransoms. And some of these ships are still held in captivity in some of the pirate-infested harbors. Military action, such as the EU-Mission Atlanta have only been a drop in the ocean, figuratively and also almost literally.

A ship that’s not moving will not bring profit. Every hour spent in the hands of pirates is not profitable for the shipping company. Let alone it being dangerous and stressful for the employees and their families. Of course, these companies try and avoid these situations, and do so by hiring mercenary soldiers, who are armed and ready to respond to any offense.

But what does all that have to do with us? We’ve already decided to change our route and sail in regions that are still devoid of pirates and we’re already excited for Madagascar, Bazil, the Carribean, the US, …

BUT … I am writing all this because we were wondering why so many boats were lying in roads at the harbor of Galle in Sri Lanka. And we were to find out why this is the case during a calm night at the beach, enjoying a cold beer. We met Mike (name changed) here, who told us about his job. He earns 275 Pounds per day for a 10-day trip up to Egypt on a boat where he spends eight hours a day guarding the boat. Every time a fisher or other potential pirate boat approaches their tanker, he grabs his machine gun and waves it above his head to signal that he and others are ready to engage in combat if neccessary. Intimidated, the small pirate boat will change its course, only to be on its way to approach the next, possibly unarmed boat.

So Mike is one of the guys that gets on and off these boats before and after crossing the Suez Canal. And that is why the tiny Galle harbor harbors so many boats: the mercenaries can board here.

The mercenary principle works: Mike has not even had to fire a single warning shot during a full 2 years of duty. Armed boats and ships are generally avoided by pirates. There’s just one problem: German law does not allow this whole rent-a-soldier deal. And it’s not just Germany, many other countries see it the same way, and again other countries are not really clear on what they allow. So it’s semi-legal or plain illegal, and as a consequence, bribing is a common way to make things work.

Having said that, our problem becomes clear. The Harbor of Galle is one of the few places where mercenaries are tolerated or allowed to board the boats. Thus, the locals around the harbor are more than used to getting their palms greased with a little allowance. We have been asked to pay fees for the most abstruse and plain unbelievable things. They are very creative when it comes to making a little extra money on the side. A little more on our experiences will be reported by the Captain in the sequel to this post.

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