Spanish Bombs Rock the Province

We call them pirates out here, Ned.

Posted in books by mrkd on 14 August 2008

One of the NPR book review guys just did a three-book summer reading bit on piracy; as I recall, two of the books were about like say Bluebeard and the golden age of pirates with parrots and muskets and cannon and so on, and the other — Dangerous Waters by John Burnett — was about modern piracy in the Malacca Strait off of Singapore. Ah, I thought, that’s the one. I probably associated the guy’s synopsis with the Ping Island Lightning Strike Rescue Op, which of course is completely insane.

The book, and modern piracy (insinuates Burnett), is about oil. The ship Burnett travels aboard is the Montrose. The Montrose is part of a class of ship with the completely logical and very silly name Very Large Crude Carrier, or VLCC, which carries an absurd amount of crude from Dubai to Singapore. The Group (nameless, faceless oil giant) owns a fleet of Very Large Carriers. To save money — and all the company wants to do, it seems, is save money — ships are manned by the absolute minimum crew required to safely pilot hundreds of millions of gallons of crude (don’t sleep! don’t spill!) through the most pirate-infested waters on earth, so they drive around with all their lights on and shoot firehoses off the side to discourage people from climbing aboard. And it’s not like modern pirates are trying to steal the cargo — what are they going to do with crude? They steal the crew’s wallets. Couple that with the fact that these ships spend a lot of time in international waters, where there is effectively no law, and the fact that pirates are not shy about using their machetes on a ship where discharging a firearm when you’re standing on 300 million gallons of oil is a bad idea…well, it’s bad. And complicated: many (not all) pirates are destitute and desperate enough to rob the giant cash cows they see floating past their villages. But the companies that own the ships don’t want to lose money, so their ships don’t carry cash. It’s like a large version of robbing the pizza delivery guy and not stealing the pizza. Imo’s doesn’t get hurt; just the driver.

Like most book-length journalism I’ve read lately — with the stunning exception of God’s Middle Finger — it’s a bit choppy and repetitive. More information than adventure, which is weird considering the lives these guys lead.

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