Pirates! Shipping companies begrudge them the name, considering them thugs. On the other hand, the officials charged with dealing with the piratical thugs offer up a kind of grudging admiration. They can capture vessels like the Sirius Star, 300 yards long and carrying oil worth $100 million -- one quarter of Saudi Arabia's output for a day. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, professes himself "stunned" by the range and ambition of the attacks.
The "Live Piracy Map 2008,", created by the International Chamber of Commerce gives you a sense of what shipping companies are dealing with. Zoom in the Gulf of Aden, for example, adjacent to lawless Somalia, and see why some lines are pretending the Suez Canal never existed, and diverting their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope.
You can click on the icons indicating attacks to read incident reports filed with the International Maritime Bureau. As BLDGBLG points out, these could provide grist for some future Patrick O'Brian: "Two white hull boats with several persons onboard approached aggressively a chemical tanker underway with intent to board. Master raised alarm, increased speed, took evasive manoeuvres and contacted coalition forces crew mustered."
(Screengrab via BLDGBLG.)
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Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.