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Remember when you were little and your grandparents told you all those quaint stories about banks failing, crops failing, and governments failing? That seemed like such a long time ago, until recently, when comparisons to the Great Depression suddenly seemed plausible. My grandparents always thought we had it too easy since we never had to live through a Great Depression. They sure would be proud of us now!
This takes me back too: a visitor to Yellowstone National Park was diagnosed with bubonic plague in August. Wyoming doesn’t seem to be in any danger of losing one-third of its population the way Europe did in the 1300’s. But this is thought to be the sixth case of bubonic plague in Wyoming since 1978. A doctor with the Wyoming Department of Health suggests “avoiding areas where a large number of unexplained rodent deaths have been observed” to keep yourself healthy. That’s probably good advice for lots of reasons.
But now, follow me back to those romantic days of yesteryear, when the gentle ocean waves were frolicked upon by . . . pirates. Sometime last weekend pirates seized an oil tanker off the coast of Kenya, and it’s currently anchored off Somalia. This wasn’t a few scurvy dogs trying to steal some rum either. The ship, the Sirius Star, is a Saudi supertanker with $100 million of oil on board, and is the largest ship ever taken by pirates. Even Blackbeard himself never took a ship that large.
So far there has been no attempts to recover the ship. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet said it does not intend to send any ships, and the Saudi government said it would join an international initiative against piracy, but gave no specific plans for dealing with the current hijacking. In many recent piracy cases ship owners have paid ransoms demanded by the pirates. There have been more than 80 pirate attacks in the area so far this year, and some countries are taking drastic action to avoid the threat of piracy against oil tankers:
Meanwhile, the Norwegian shipping group Odfjell SE said it ordered its more than 90 tankers to sail all the way around Africa to avoid the risk of attack by Somali pirates. That means their ships will go past South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope instead of taking the Suez Canal shortcut through the Gulf of Aden.
That little detour adds 12 to 15 days to a tanker’s journey. They’re going to miss out on all the fun:
(a witness) said two small boats floated out to the ship and 18 men – presumably other pirates – climbed aboard with a rope ladder. Spectators watched as a small boat carried food and qat, a narcotic leaf popular in Somalia, to the supertanker.
Qat (or khat) is a flowering plant native to the area, and when chewed acts as a stimulant causing euphoria and loss of appetite. It’s perfect for pirates — it enhances the euphoria of pirating while cutting down on the amount of food they need to steal. However, long-term use can cause diminished sex drive, which would NOT be conducive to pirating. That might make today’s pirates nostalgic for the days of rum and tobacco.