Teach the free man how to praise

Pity is a selective thing. Western navies are advised by lawyers that pirates must be given asylum if they are apprehended while hundreds of Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and Filipino seamen, working for a pittance, languish in captivity while seized in the service of their employers, without prospect of legal residency in Europe. The Times Online reports that the "Royal Navy, once the scourge of brigands on the high seas, has been told by the Foreign Office not to detain pirates because doing so may breach their human rights." In the meantime:

The number of abducted Filipino seafarers in Somali waters rose to 134 with the seizure of the MV Delight on November 18. The seven Filipino seafarers are members of a 25 multi-national crew aboard the Hong Kong registered Iranian ship, whose crew also includes seven Indians, two Pakistanis and two Ghanaians. None of the crew members are reported to be harmed. The 134 Filipinos currently held come from a total of eight hijacked ships, including 19 from the high profile capture of the Sirius Star; with the single largest contingent being the 26 man crew of the MV Centauri taken on the 17th of September. The total would be higher but for 76 Filipino crew have been released by the Somali pirates since the April of this year. The large number of abducted Filipinos reflects the large Filipino seafaring community, some 230,000 of all ranks in 2004, who command wages only a third of that of Western seamen.

Here's a partial list of the ships and men that have been entertained at the pirate city of Eyl. (More on Eyl)

1. Sirius Star

Hijacked November 17

Cargo: 2 million barrels of oil, valued at $100 million

Crew: 25 men

2. MV Karagol

Hijacked November 12

Cargo: 4,000 tons of chemicals

Crew: 14 Turks

3. MV Stolt Strength

Hijacked November 10

Cargo: Phosphoric acid

Crew: 23 Filipinos

4. CEC Future

Hijacked November 7

Cargo: Unknown

Crew: 11 Russians, one Georgian, one Lithuanian

5. MV Yasa Neslihan

Hijacked October 29

Cargo: Iron ore

Crew: 20 Turks

6. MT African Sanderling

Hijacked October 15

Cargo: Unknown

Crew: 21 Filipinos

7. MV Faina

Hijacked September 25

Cargo: 33 T-72 Russian battle tanks

Crew: 17 Ukrainians, 2 Latvians, one Russian

8. MV Captain Stefanos

Hijacked September 21

Cargo: Unknown

Crew: 17 Filipinos, two other nationals

9. Centauri

Hijacked September 18

Cargo: 17,000 tons of salt

Crew: 25 Filipinos

10. MV Great Creation

Hijacked September 17

Cargo: Chemical fertilizer

Crew: 24 Chinese, one Sri Lankan

The Washington Post quoted an expert in late 2008 who said, "We have never seen this before, these kinds of numbers, the number of ships that have been attacked".

Pirates in the Gulf of Aden are holding nine ships with more than 100 passengers for ransom off Somalia, the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center said Thursday. A 15,000-ton South Korean cargo ship with 21 sailors was hijacked Wednesday. Other captives include a French couple kidnapped Sept. 3 aboard their yacht, which pirates now are using to capture other ships, authorities said.

Pirates released two other ships, a German-owned cargo vessel and a Japanese chemical tanker, after receiving ransoms, the Reuters news agency reported Thursday.

Wednesday's hijacking brought the number of pirate attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden to 50, up from 13 for all of last year, Noel Choong, spokesman for the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, said by telephone. "We have never seen this before, these kinds of numbers, the number of ships that have been attacked," Choong said.

How will the saga end? Reuters provides a window into the thinking of some policy makers. In article titled, "Scenarios: How will Somali-American pirate standoff end?", Andrew Cawthorne offers five outcomes:

1) Negotiated solution, with the pirates being offered safe conduct in exchange for the release of an American captain. 2) Protracted saga, as pirates are fed by Western navies while negotiations are under way; 3) Pirate reinforcement as more buccaneers arrive on-scene; 4) International response, as a flotilla of vessels from all nations arrives to show resolve; 5) Political solution -- "Everyone agrees the real solution to piracy is achieving peace and stable central government in Somalia. ...  there have been 15 attempts to restore central government, the latest being the administration of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, formed in a U.N.-brokered peace process earlier this year. ... Violence has intensified poverty in Somalia, where many of the young and unemployed now view the riches available from piracy as a dazzling alternative."

Another Reuters piece calls the whole piracy situation "an annoying distraction for Obama".

"We don't want to go back there," said presidential historian Thomas Alan Schwartz, a professor at Vanderbilt University. "This may be one of those points where Obama is going to have to cash in some of his international chips and get the U.N. to go in there."

"Somebody needs to go into Somalia and govern the place," he said.

In other words, many would prefer to buy them off or at least, give them enough money to distract them for a while. And it is not so outrageous as it seems. I think there will be a surprising amount of sympathy in polite society for the plight of the pirates, who after all are suffering from the root causes of deprivation. There will be almost none for the Third World merchant seamen who have tried to feed their families at the risk to life and limb by working for companies.  They will be remembered as little as those who follow the rules so often are: the legal immigrants who wait in line; those who win their citizenship by service; the families who scrimped and saved to buy houses they could afford. What public policy remembers them? Maybe the real poem for our era isn't Auden's 1939, but his In memory of WB Yeats.  The exceptional have such contempt for the ordinary, because they distract them from the business of their great vanities, when all that is truly exceptional in them is their blindness.

Hostages in training? Filipino fishermen attending church in Fraserburgh, Scotland as they follow the sea.