Sea Transportation: Pirates Are Not The Only Pirates


April 7, 2011: Piracy isn't the only skullduggery going on off the Somali coast. There's growing evidence that captured sailors and ship owners are joining in with the pirates to make some money and get a taste of the outlaw life. It all began, a few years ago, when pirates forced (according to the sailors), or persuaded (according to witnesses) captured sailors to help run captured ships as mother boats, and get a cut of the cash if a major ship is taken. Pirates have long (for thousands of years) recruited from among their captives. No one is saying anything about this, as the pirate situation is messy enough already.

Less easy to ignore is ship owners that abandon their ships once the ransom has been paid or the ship was rescued. This has happened twice now. Both the 7,561 ton Rak Afrikana (taken on April 11, 2010) and the smaller (1,332 GRT) tanker Esperanza (taken December, 2010) have since been freed and are drifting around the Indian Ocean, with no one willing to speak up about what is going on. Most likely it's insurance fraud. As soon as Rak Afrikana was freed, and crew was removed by another ship, the freighter was left to drift. It’s been drifting off the coast for several months now, and slowly sinking.

The Esperanza was an even more interesting story. When attacked, the crew disabled the engines, barricaded themselves in a safe room and radioed for help. A U.S. warship came along shortly, and found the pirates gone (leaving only a few bullet holes behind). Unfortunately, the crew was unable to repair the engines, so the American destroyer took the crew to Oman and cut them loose. The owner of the Esperanza was notified. But no one bothered to go get the drifting Esperanza.

Why had it taken so long to get the Esperanza a tow? Well, it seems that the Esperanza was involved in shady business itself. Local fishermen report seeing the Esperanza loading petroleum products from larger tankers (who doctor their records and pocket the money), and then sell it to isolated towns along the coast. The Esperanza has also been spotted making deliveries in Somalia. The Indian owner of the Esperanza denied any knowledge of this, but did not arrange for a tug to go after the Esperanza last December, apparently in the hope that the ship would just sink, and the insurance could be collected. The crew has since disappeared, and no one is really interested in pursuing the case. For one thing, jurisdiction is questionable and hard evidence is lacking. No one, including the crew, owners, rescuers or even the pirates, want to touch this one.

As in the past, in areas where piracy is common, pirates are not the only pirates.


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