Monday, November 17, 2008 12:19 AM
It's not often that I get to invoke the term "pirate" in this industry and actually refer to a bunch of guys on a real boat intercepting real merchant ships stealing real physical merchandize. You thought digital piracy was a problem? How about piracy of the live body guns-and-surly-attitudes kind?
Apparently pirates in the vicinity of Somalia have been stepping up attacks on trade ships beyond the Horn of Africa into the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, imperiling access to the Suez Canal. Those attacks are up from one every few weeks to four in a single day, according to Sam Dawson of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), speaking to Reuters. "This is not just guys in little fishing boats anymore," says Dawson. "We know there are three probably ex-Soviet trawlers acting as mother ships."
It's gotten so bad that companies are actually thinking about rerouting oil, gas and coal, and toys around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope instead.
That'd be a drastic reroute (see above). A run from Mumbai, India to London, UK through the Canal is 7,200 miles, but approaching twice that (12,300 miles) if you detour south through the Indian Ocean, around the Cape, then back north through the Atlantic. The extra distance would add up to three weeks transit time, wreaking all sorts of havoc on shipping schedules and fuel costs, not to mention the extra wear and tear on the ships themselves.
"Despite all the publicity over piracy it will really hit home when consumers in the West find they haven't got their Nintendo gifts this Christmas," Dawson told Reuters.
"Nintendo gifts"? I don't think he means Nintendo literally, but more in the catch-all sense a lot of non-gaming baby boomers do. As in: "Are you playing Nintendo again?" By which they're really referring to anything that slots under the rubric of "video game."
Will it affect us in the U.S.? I'm no expert on maritime trade, but this looks like more of a European problem than a U.S. one. If you want to get something into the U.S. from India, you're probably heading east, not west. Still, trade disruption of any kind in an increasingly delicate world economy eventually catches up with us stateside.