Pleasure boating becomes oxymoronic in the grim story of modern-day piracy.
UPI reporter and sailor Burnett was attacked by pirates on his boat in the South China Sea, which prompted him to embark on this study. It will have readers agog. Piracy is again a scourge: pirates may be freebooters or simple opportunists, terrorists, or followers of warlords, employees of organized crime groups or corrupt government officials. But—coming from Brazil, Central America, Africa, the Middle East, through the Panama Canal or the Suez, armed with grappling hooks and bamboo poles—they occupy every strait and shipping lane, ready to board anything that floats: yachts, cargo vessels, ferries, cruise ships, supertankers, the super colossal VLCCs—huge crude carriers—even ships carrying recycled nuclear material. As Burnett notes, some of these attacks are quick, little more than smash-and-grab events. They can also involve the outright theft of enormous ships, which are then repainted and used to smuggle drugs or illegal immigrants. The violence involved can be lesser or greater—Burnett details some especially horrible episodes—but the incidence is escalating. When Burnett spends time on both a VLCC and a smaller tanker in what can only be called infested waters, he portrays the chilling experience of being stalked by low-slung, ghostly boats at night. He explains the steps being taken to ward off pirates, from decks awash with halogen light and fire hoses training jets of water at the rails, to hi-tech commercial SWAT teams. Still, the pickings are too good to ignore: “If you have a spare $300,000, you can go down to the docks in Manila . . . and pick out any one of a number of ships in the harbor and a syndicate will arrange for a gang to steal it.” You don’t even have to put a knife between your teeth.
This may do for boating what Psycho did for showering—take all the fun out of it.