Piracy, like most disasters, is much more interesting when it happens to someone else. While schadenfreude here at 12 Angry Men is usually limited to individuals, seeing it on an international level (where the U.S. is -not- on the receiving end) makes for plenty of nice copy.

Piracy in the modern age has yet to really conquer the image of 17-19th century pirates that dominates the American mind. Modern headlines colored by movie images and Internet memes make for interesting juxtapositions, such as the pirate vs. ninja showdowns whenever Japanese ships are taken for ransom.

However, lately two instances of the theme have so many juicy bits to them that they might finally wrench the image of a pirate into the modern consciousness. But a good deal of modern silliness comes along for the ride.

The first one is a fairly straightforward ship, but the cargo’s final destination was in doubt: Ukranian ship (MV Faina) carrying 33 T-72 Soviet-era tanks to Kenya (on behalf of raiders in the Sundan). Kenya denies that they were for the Sudan, but tanks keep appearing in the Sudan, and they didn’t arrive overland to the land-locked south Sudan…

That ship is surrounded by warships, and pirates are still asking for $20m ransom.

The second one sounds like something from an action movie. The Iran Deyant (also spelled Iran Deyanat is owned by the Iranian government. It left China in late July and was bound for Germany through the Suez Canal to deliver 43 tons of iron ore and ‘industrial products’. On August 21st Somali pirates decided that this was a ship they wanted to take and hold for ransom. Bad for them, interesting for everyone else.

The cargo was an enormous amount of -something-, but it’s not clear that it was iron ore. The reports are spotty and changing, ranging from “gritty oily sand” to “crude oil” to “minerals”. The pirates who opened the cargo developed severe skin burns and hair loss in the following days, a la Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Ironically, the latest conspiracy theory surrounding the Iran Deyant comes closer to that movie than I thought possible.

The symptoms experienced by the pirates seem consistent with massive radiation exposure. A ship full of radioactive sand would make a huge mess if it were to spill. Or if it were to detonate…

An Iranian ship, a floating dirty-bomb full of Chinese radioactive waste, wouldn’t really be of much use in Germany, but delivery to Germany makes a good excuse to float it through the Suez Canal, and next to Tel-Aviv in Israel. Depending on its travel schedule, it would have hit right about October 9th… Happy Yom Kippur.

Iran was hoping not to be captured, and even happy to pay the ransom on this ship straight away before anyone looked at it too closely. But now things seem to be bogging down as the U.S. and others are taking a real interest in what the cargo here actually is. If Somali pirates have actually managed to block Iran’s long-talked about attack on Israel, that would certainly establish modern piracy as a force for change in world events.

And a worth a dang good laugh at Iran for not managing to bribe their way through Somalia properly…

So while we wait to hear what the facts actually are about the Iran Deyant, it’s certainly fun to watch the theories abound. This year might be the tipping point for Somali piracy where the big players suddenly don’t tolerate them anymore and just sink every ship on the Somali coast out of spite.

But until then, we will still get lovely implied headlines out of it:

Japan Executes Surprise Raid Against Pirates
Russia/US Form Joint Piracy Squad
Somali Pirates Save Israel and Prevent World War IV

Yay for the Somalis. They put the “piracy” back into conspiracy!

On a personal note, this will officially become my favorite conspiracy theory once someone completes the circle and finds a way to blame Bush, Bin Laden, and/or Palin for it.

The National Review Online also reported this (and also linked the US presidential campaign into its post, kudos), and now has sources saying most of this is bogus (no surprise here), but I’m still munching popcorn and waiting to see how Iran maneuvers through its explanation of this…

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