Sunday, May 03, 2009

Pirates at Lambeth

I have been researching Somali piracy for the last few days (as part of my paid work). As usual, my commissioners are keen to learn the numbers. Not for them, long descriptions of knife held between the teeth, and jumps onto ships; or alternatively, the plight of Somali fishermen, who, when seeing their seas plundered by international fishing boats, decided to jump the fishing boat, and board the oil tanker, for a US$15 million ransom.

No. My employers want to know the numbers: how dangerous it is to global trade, how much money lost, how many attacks per month. And so I cruise the rough seas of the internet, keeping a sharp eye on the horizon for nice numbers and statistics. They are not so easy to find. To my surprise, there are more than a dozen of organisations monitoring and reporting naval piracy, but it seems that none of them produce the numbers I need.

One of these organisations is the International Maritime Organisation, whose headquarters is near Lambeth Bridge. Above the entrance is a statue of tough seamen, braving the hard weather and looking ahead, that is, across the Thames, somewhere in the direction of Tate Britain. The IMO headquarters was on my cycle path for some years; my never-never cycle path, my fairy tale cycle path, composed from my urban legends, of which pirates and admirals were just one element (others were: MI6 spymasters, at their emerald castle in Vauxhall; corrupt looter accountants, at Ernest and Young, just down the road; MPs across the river in Westminster; seagulls; cycle couriers on Waterloo Bridge). Perhaps I should call for a visit now to the International Maritime Organisation headquarters, that I have a reason. But inside, I am afraid, I'll find no captains or bandits, only annoying borring people in suits.

It seems a lousy job, Somali pirate. You may just hit the jackpot, land on a defenceless Saudi supertanker worth 100 million dollars. Bingo! you make your demands, you split the US$15 million ransom. But ten days later you are floating in the waters of the Gulf of Aden, dead, on your body some 170,000 dollars in waterproof packets.