Script: Listening Plus - Pirate attack

Script: Listening Plus - Pirate attack

November 26, 2009
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TIM: Hi this is listening plus with Young Post reporter Timothy Chui. Today I’ll be speaking with SCMP chief Asia correspondent Greg Torodo about a pirate attack on a Chinese ship last month. Thanks for joining us Greg.

GRE: Thanks Timothy.

TIM: First off, can you summarise the developments since October 18th.

GRE: Okay, we’ll we’ve seen a pretty interesting couple of weeks. The ship was grabbed in the middle of the Indian Ocean. A mainland ship. It was grabbed as it sailed between South Africa and India with a load of coal. The pirates shut down communications. They steamed towards the coast of Somali more than 1,000 nautical miles of ocean. The ship was spotted by the European Union on anti-piracy patrols. Again, no communication until it reached a pirate stronghold. The pirates have got in touch with the ship’s owners and as we recently reported negotiations have begun.

TIM: Who are the perpetrators of the attacks and what are their motivations?

GRE: That’s a good question. The perpetrators tend to be Somalian fisherman. They’re not very traditionally they’re pretty straight forward simple sort of characters. Not a lot of sophistication, and yet they’ve come up with a business model which has put the entire the whole sea lanes between that link Asia and Europe at risk. Their motivations are financial. It’s very lucrative. They’re not interested in stealing cargo or ships. They just keep the hostages and from what we can make out in relatively good condition and slowly make the ship owners sweat until they pay up. They have the additional motivation of they’re country is of course a failed state. Complete anarchy. Imagine a place with no central government. Not even a postal service you’ve got some idea of just how rough things are in Somali so there’s no one to control what they’re doing. Because it’s a failed state, other countries from both Asia and Europe have pillaged the seas around Somalia so the fisherman have that extra motivation of, there’s nothing else for them to do now. no fish to catch, so they’ve gone into piracy and estimates I was given was up to 80 million US in ransom was paid to different pirate gangs last year and as you can imagine one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan African 80 million goes a long way. These guys have the latest GPS, radar systems, sonar equipment, satellite phones and they can operate fairly efficiently.

TIM: How has this affair been handled thus far?

GRE: Interestingly China hasn’t said very much at all, state media has been generally playing it down. We’ve heard about from some of the other navies involved, they’ve been giving us information and ship owners as well, so we know negotiations are underway. its very interesting timothy that it has been played down because we’ve seen obviously such strong images of the Chinese military build up, most recently of course the 60th anniversary parade in Beijing was a big show of military force so just as Chinese people are being told about their mighty military and military advances, this is a real test case to see what they can do and its been played right down. There’s a lot of suggestion outside china that china isn’t really quite sure how to handle this. They’re negotiating at the same time and haven’t taken the threat of force off the table. It’s quite likely that I think pretty clear China wants to avoid force if it can. Somalia has been able to humble many militaries including the US. Being a lawless state you have lots of weapons. Rocket propelled grenades with small heat seeking missiles on them. All these kind of things are floating around. Anybody who has seen black hawk down knows its not a place you want to go into lightly.

TIM: What kind of knock on effects and implications does this have for china and the pirates at large?

GRE: That’s a hard one to read. I mean, one’s got to assume if china can with the eyes of both the domestic population and the international world looking at them you’ve got to think china wants to send a strong message to the pirates. There’s an awful lot of Chinese shipping going round the horn of Africa into the red sea including much of its oil. There were five or six attacks before the china decided in January to send anti-piracy warships out there. It was its first deployment into international waters and potential combat zone in centuries so it’s really quite a big deal. We assume that china really wants to find at some time a final solution to this, but it’ll be a long slow process.

So China’s really in uncharted waters at this point. They’ve called a meeting of some of the 40 navies that are involved off the horn of Africa to try to improve cooperation. nobody’s really sure quite what they’re after so this one is really kind of a new area for china and everybody’s looking to see how they handle, how they cooperate, what they’re military leaderships like, and so on, so its quite fascinating.

TIM: Great, thanks.

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