11A020 Piracy, Now and Then by Jim Davies, 1/20/2011    

Governments - and, unfortunately, merchant shippers - have learned nothing in two hundred years.

I had thought piracy disappeared about that long ago, to reappear only in a 1879 stage farce by Gilbert & Sullivan - but it's not so. Enterprising bands of wannabe government thugs in fast boats have during this century harrassed ships large and small off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, hoisting themselves aboard and holding the crew and cargo ransom, usually making off with seven figure bags of loot. It must be among the world's most profitable criminal rackets, and they melt away in the sands of Somalia, perhaps using the plunder to organize the creation of a government over people who have repeatedly made it clear they don't want one.

The United States has never suffered unprovoked attack by a foreign power, so its government needs no more than a skeleton Department of Defense at most, but when I point that out quite often the response is "What about 1812?" In that year began a short and nasty war with Britain, which had several causes including a US attempt to "annex" British Canada. One view is that Madison started it for domestic political reasons and it got out of hand; but a major root was for sure the Royal Navy's piratical theft of sailors from US merchant ships. The UK government had two supporting rationales; it was in a tense war with Napoleon's France and wanted to stop all trade with that enemy including US shipments, and secondly its navy was very short of trained sailors, so it stole some. Neither was excusable, but at least it wasn't done just out of spite, to start another war with the former American Colonies. They were quite busy enough with Boney.

The US merchant shippers then bleated for government help, and got it; and so there was a war.

This week a closely similar event happened off Africa; a South Korean merchant ship was hijacked by pirates, and a South Korean Navy destroyer is rushing to intervene. My point is not that the pirates should be left alone, rather that pirates should be dealt with by the shipper directly, without calling in government navies; again, nothing has been learned in two centuries.

In a zero government society there will be nobody to whom to bleat, so the cost of defense against piracy will fall not collectively upon everyone via taxation for a government navy, but upon the merchant shipper and his insurer, if any. Very possibly insurers will keep armed ships in piracy hot-spots, and quite likely they will augment clients' crews with armed specialists to resist pirates as they try to climb aboard.. Such defense contracts will vary widely, and in some cases they will not be written - the shipper will hire his own defense crew or merely train his regular crew in techniques to repel boarders.

In no case will there be a government to "help," so there can be no war.

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