Scarier Halloween Costume: A Pirate, or Kim Jong-il?

Yesterday, a U.S. Navy destroyer helped the crew of a North Korean freighter recapture their vessel from a band of marauding pirates off the coast of Somalia. It’s an unusual news item, not because piracy is rare — around the world, pirate attacks have surged over the last decade — but because we’re more used to hearing about the dire threat North Korea poses to world peace, and what the U.S. is doing to contain it.

While it’s true that the rescue of the North Korean freighter was unprecedented, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising.

The world’s oceans are largely unpoliced. At the same, they carry more than 90 percent of world trade. High seas piracy, which can strike almost anywhere along unguarded shipping lanes, injects uncertainty into the shipping industry. That uncertainty can throw sand into the gears of the global economy (for example, piracy off the coast of Somalia is restricting the flow of humanitarian relief, not to mention trade goods, into the country).

To heighten the perception of danger, the profits from high seas piracy may or may not be finding their way into the pockets of international terrorists.

Compare that with the more measurable, more predictable risk posed by North Korea, which has recently agreed to mothball its nuclear weapons program. Which one produces more fear and instability?

Part of the explanation for this week’s unusual maritime rescue might lie in the Ellsberg paradox, which Dubner and Levitt explored last month in their column on the resurgence of the American nuclear power industry. Given a choice between a risk with understandable consequences and a risk fraught with immeasurable uncertainty, we tend to choose the former.

So today and tonight, at the office Halloween party or after hours, let us know. Which costume is scarier: a pirate, or Kim Jong-il?

Trick or Treat bonus links: Dubner wrote about Pirates earlier this month, during a lull in piratical activity. And you can see a live map of all reported pirate attacks around the world here, courtesy of the International Maritime Bureau.


MM

It looks like nearly all are in coastal areas, and between the tropics. Memo to ship crews: sail north or south of the tropics, and away from the coast.

Other point: do you have a similar map showing wall street (just kidding) :/ :)

Jolly Bloger

Pirates are always scarier. Also cooler. But only classical pirates (i.e. Treasure Island), not these rag-tag opportunist ones of late.

For more on classical piracy, Somalian pirates and a closer look at the Maritime Bureau annual piracy report, http://jollybloger.blogspot.com/search/label/Pirates

Marilyn Terrell

Peter Gwin interviewed pirates in the Strait of Malacca in the October issue of National Geographic:
http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2007-10/malacca-strait-pirates/pirates-text.html

Shan

I'd definitely go as Kim Jong Il if I was a foot shorter.

coolrepublica

Choices choices. Murdering, raping pirates vs. murdering, raping Kin Jong Il. It's a draw!

Joe

Check out the article...

"Ankunda said the militiamen had asked for 15,000 dollars (10,000 euros) to free the freighter..."

$15k isn't much money. At first I thought it was kinda funny (a bit like Dr. Evil asking for 1 million dollars), but after a second thought, it's actually extremely sad that people would go into piracy for such small sums. It truly shows how desperate these people are.

Michael

I seriously doubt American destroyers consult with the US State Department before answering distress calls from merchants being attacked by pirates. Reading political implication into this is silly.

Tom T

One should attack pirates. If they are pirating a ship from a country that we don't like, we should still attack the pirates. If the ship happened to be carrying equipment to make fuel for nuclear weapons, we might want to think twice about giving the ship with cargo back to North Korea. If it is carry anything that is not a weapon of mass destruction, then we should consider this a very useful way to attack piracy. This is mainly attacking piracy and not so much helping North Korea.

Matt

Perhaps we should have offered to trade the freighter and its crew for the USS Pueblo?

DanC

You can hire the pirates to harass your enemies and offer them some protection. Or you can view the pirates as destructive to your interest and make it impossible for them to make a living. i.e. if they can making a living stealing from your enemies, they are also able to remain a power center who can upset the domestic balance in countries where they operate. If you want that government to prosper you attack the pirates. If you want the government to fail you ignore the pirates, to some degree.

Eric

Piracy is an issue in litoral waters now because of the number of areas which are unguarded. Historically, piracy has surged when navies are either weak or focusing on other activities, but the standard laws of the sea make pirates legal targets for any warship which cares to intervene.

It is heartening that the US Navy considerers anti-piracy operations worthwhile, as they are an effective means of projecting "hard power" in friendly and productive manner.

Michael

My favorite is the attempted piracy in what looks like the middle of Liverpool! Maybe someone was stealing Paul McCartney's dignhy?

hal

I thought the number of pirates was decreasing. That's why we have global warming. FSM decrees it to be so.

Thomas

"The Outlaw Sea" by William Langewiesche describes just how easy it is to disappear with a huge ship on the high seas. A quick paint job and shady paperwork and The Nina becomes the Pinta or the Santa Maria. Regulation in the shipping industry is notoriously lax, so changing paperwork is not as hard as it might seem.

Lauren

I personally think that someone should combine the best of both worlds and go as Kil Jong-il, dressed as a pirate.

vijay jain

I think the costume for pirates is good. it will make consciosness among people about the pirates.

MM

It looks like nearly all are in coastal areas, and between the tropics. Memo to ship crews: sail north or south of the tropics, and away from the coast.

Other point: do you have a similar map showing wall street (just kidding) :/ :)

Jolly Bloger

Pirates are always scarier. Also cooler. But only classical pirates (i.e. Treasure Island), not these rag-tag opportunist ones of late.

For more on classical piracy, Somalian pirates and a closer look at the Maritime Bureau annual piracy report, http://jollybloger.blogspot.com/search/label/Pirates

Marilyn Terrell

Peter Gwin interviewed pirates in the Strait of Malacca in the October issue of National Geographic:
http://magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2007-10/malacca-strait-pirates/pirates-text.html

Shan

I'd definitely go as Kim Jong Il if I was a foot shorter.