Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« Looking For Lincoln | Main | Why Are Newspapers Struggling? »

Michael Winship: The Shipping News

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL senior writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

''The Shipping News''
By Michael Winship

If you’re looking for signs of the Apocalypse – and who isn’t? – here’s a good one. There’s an uptick in ark building.

You heard me. According to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, that Bible of the Financially Bilious, Hong Kong’s billionaire Kwok brothers are in the final stages of constructing the world’s first full-size replica of Noah’s Ark – 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. “Just the answer,” the JOURNAL reports, “for the rising waters threatening the global economy.”

Unlike Noah’s aquatic zoo, the Kwok version will remain land bound, and its 67 pairs of animals are made of fiberglass, thus eliminating potential headaches arising from husbandry, hygiene and other housekeeping issues at sea. It also comes equipped with a restaurant and posh, rooftop resort hotel – just the thing to please the discerning plutocrat, for whom a luxury suite is probably the closest they’ll ever get to The Rapture.

The Bible says Noah’s Ark was made of gopher wood, whatever that is (no one knows for certain, it seems); the Hong Kong replica is concrete reinforced with glass fiber, and is being built to actual size, the JOURNAL says, “in part to distinguish itself from one in the Netherlands that actually floats and boasts real farm animals but is just one fifth the size of the biblical original.”

The two vessels are “just the latest additions to a veritable ark armada built around the world by the devout and the merely driven.”

The Dutch ark’s builder plans to sail his to London, the United States and Australia. Of course, as things currently stand, chances are the boat will be boarded by Somali pirates and held for ransom, so its chicks and ducks and geese better scurry now while the scurrying’s good.

Actually, the odds of such an attack happening reportedly are less than one percent per voyage. But the recent assaults on American shipping attempting to deliver food aid to Kenya – some of which is destined for Somalia – and the successful rescue of Captain Richard Phillips last Sunday (killing three pirates in the process) finally have focused this country’s attention on the problem. Bands of Somali pirates are holding at least 19 ships and more than 250 merchant mariners for millions of dollars in ransom.

“These pirates are criminals, they are armed gangs of the sea, and those plotting attacks must be stopped and those carrying them out must be brought to justice,” Secretary of State Clinton told reporters Wednesday.

True enough, but it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the conditions from which this new breed of pirate arose and to realize that, as Madison University analyst J. Peter Pham told Reuters, “It will require more than just the application of force to uproot piracy from the soil of Somalia.”

It’s not just because the sea is so great and our boats are so small, comparatively speaking. Some estimate up to a million square miles of ocean are vulnerable and even hundreds of patrolling warships probably wouldn’t be enough to do the job. (Right now, according to an official with the US Central Command, there is just a handful of US and non-US ships on pirate patrol in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.) Nor is it simply because since 1991 Somalia has been in a state of total anarchy. There’s more to it.

The seeds of the current piracy were planted around the time of that collapse when a group of vigilante fishermen calling themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia started heading out to sea in speedboats, intercepting and levying a “tax” on foreign, mostly Western, ships, some of which were smuggling goods in and out of the country, others of which were busily overfishing coastal waters, depriving nine million starving Somalis of food.

What’s more, Ahmediou Ould-Abdallah, the United Nations envoy to Somalia, told Jonathan Hari of the British newspaper THE INDEPENDENT that European ships, taking advantage of the onshore chaos, dumped barrels of nuclear waste offshore. “There is also lead,” he claimed, “and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.”

Hari reports that after the Christmas 2005 tsunami, hundreds of leaking barrels washed up on shore and more than 300 died from radiation sickness. “Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to ‘dispose’ of cheaply,” he wrote back on January 5th. “When I asked Mr. Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh, ‘Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation and no prevention.’”

In the April issue of VANITY FAIR, journalist William Langewiesche has a fascinating account of last spring’s Somali hijacking of the French cruise ship Le Ponant, which finally ended with the crew’s safe return, the payment of a $2.15 million ransom and a French military assault that resulted in the arrest of six alleged pirates.

“One of the ironies at play is that the maritime industry being victimized is itself a standard-bearer for the advantages that exist in a world beyond law and regulation,” he writes, referring to a global shipping trade that has dodged the rules through the raw manipulation of flags of convenience and the law of the sea. They are, Langewiesche says, “…The very same people who for years have made a mockery of the nation-state idea. They know that whatever pirate tolls they pay will always pale in comparison with the taxes that would be imposed if global law and order ever actually prevailed.”

No wonder media commentators speak -- without irony -- of the pirates’ “business model.” Icelandic fishermen turned to banking and high finance and we know how well that turned out. Somali fisherman turned to piracy. This global economic calamity has everyone hammering together arks, and despite this week’s rescue at sea, so far, it seems, the pirates -- Somali or otherwise -- are the ones still afloat.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/1800

Comments

Though I do not think that any more comments were needed, the points were well stated,
I feel I must write. Pertaining to: “The Bible says Noah’s Ark was made of gopher wood,
whatever that is...”, and training, the fact is, the education system did fail!
The question is how good was the Capitan that “sail gopher wood” in compare to the goofs
that “swamp our ship”, send over 4500 to death on falls pretense”, “thousands of innocent
civilian killed and suffering”open “two war fronts” and now may be third war with Pakistan, etc.
Are these not home trained pirates that swam our ship?

So once again it's just you and me, Michael Winship. Viewers who read this essay had probably not received their scripts from the agents of oligarchy yet, and as such were mute to respond. As soon as I post though will come some macoute (violent defender of privilege) response condemning us both to walk the plank.
When I think of pirates I envision the trailers for Disney films starring Johnny Depp (I have never seen these movies.) Are they still handing out skull and crossbone tricorner hats to children in those Disney World commercials? Maybe if I recalled some history I'd think of American privateers, with their Bills of Marque. You used "Shipping News" in you title but neglected to connect it up. I thought how Quoyle was taught to write about car wrecks, and to place a shoe or toy in the road for effect in the news photographs. In the novel/movie drowning was a much more frequent cause of accidental death, but people preferred not to dwell upon it. We are likewise reversed in our perceptions of Somalis. Most do not have their heads vaporized by Navy Seals exploding bullets while they are vomiting from seasickness. Most are dying on shore from starvation and disease, or from the absence of order and justice. There may be piles of shoes and toys and other artifacts never shown in our media. “Where did their resources go?” might be a better question than where the "pirates" are coming from.
No macoutes yet, Mike? Maybe this edited submission will draw them. My old fingers find it hard to compose on a PDA keyboard, but now I’m home again.

So once again it's just you and me, Michael Winship. Viewers who read this essay had probably not received their scripts for the agents of oligarchy yet, and as such were mute to respond.As soon as I post though will come some macoute response condemning up both to walk the plank.

When I think of pirates I envision the trailers for Disney films starring Johnny Depp (I have never seen these movies.) Maybe if I knew any history I'd think of American privateers, with their Bills of Marque. You used "shipping News" in you title but neglected to connect it up. I thought how Quole was taught to write about car wrecks, and to place a shoe or toy in the road for effect in the news photographs. In the story drowning was a much more frequent cause of accidental death but people preferred not to think about it. We areeversed in our perceptions of Somalians. Most do not have their heads vaporized by Navy Seals exploding bullets while they are vomiting from seasickness. Most are dying on shore from starvation and disease, or from the absence of order and justice.There may be piles of shoes and toys and other artifacts never shown in our media. Where did their resources go might be a better questions than where the "pirates" are coming from.

Post a comment

THE MOYERS BLOG is our forum for viewers' comments intended for discussing and debating ideas and issues raised on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. THE MOYERS BLOG invites you to share your thoughts. We are committed to keeping an open discussion; in order to preserve a civil, respectful dialogue, our editors reserve the right to remove or alter any comments that we find unacceptable, for any reason. For more information, please click here.

THE MOYERS BLOG
A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

Your Comments

Podcasts

THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

Click to subscribe in iTunes

Subscribe with another reader

Get the vodcast (help)

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ