Telling coin causes some need for concern



I don’t want to alarm anybody, but I’ve been a little apprehensive over what I found in the change kicked out by the till at one of the local stores the other day.

It was a 10-shillings coin from the Republic of Somalia dated 2002. It has a dromedary camel on one side and a coat of arms on the other.

No, I have never been to Somalia. All I really know about Somalia is that it is the home base of a gang of pirates who prey on the 18,000 ships that travel through the Gulf of Aden each year. And piracy is on the rise, according to the Wall Street Journal, which ran a report the other day from the London-based International Maritime Bureau, a group that tracks piracy. Worldwide, there were 293 piracy acts in 2008, to the point that maritime academies in this country are training merchant seamen on how to fend off attacks.

In the Gulf of Aden alone, IMB says, there were 50 attacks in the last three months of 2008. Biggest prize taken by the pirates so far was the tanker MV Biscaglia loaded with 25,000 tons of palm oil that belonged to Saudi Arabia. It was captured the day after Thanksgiving by five men in a speedboat with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.

No one was hurt. The pirates so far have emphasized that they are interested only in money, although if the intended prey puts up a fight, obviously some people may be killed or injured. These are fairly tame pirates, known to have engaged caterers to prepare homestyle food for foreign hostages.

The Biscaglia’s shipping company, based in Stamford, Conn., negotiated with the pirates for nearly two months and then paid them a sum neither side has revealed. We’ve learned the money was dropped to the pirates on the ship in a waterproof container and divided up among the captors, three of whom lost their lives and their money when their speedboat capsized on the way in to shore.

The problem with dealing with the pirates who hole up on the coast of Somalia is that the Gulf of Aden is in international waters, so it doesn’t fall under anyone’s jurisdiction or police. Also, ships often are owned by a company in one country, registered to another country with a crew from someplace else.

The United Nations last summer passed a resolution authorizing force against the pirates and in December, the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization deployed seven ships to patrol the Gulf. There now are 20 warships from 14 countries in the area to offer military escort. Yet there were 17 attacks and three hijackings just last month.

Now, I know I am making a whole lot out of one little coin, but one does not expect a coin from Somalia to show up in grocery store change in Puget Sound unless someone from Somalia parted with it. Are we being scouted for an attack on our ferry system? Lord knows we’ve got a bunch of ferries plying the waters that would be easy prey. The crews, by my observation over the years, frequently disappear below decks the minute we leave port and don’t reappear until the landing whistle blows on the other side. That, I figure, is to avoid being annoyed by passengers with questions requiring some action.

I can’t imagine the taking of a ferryboat because where would they go with it while negotiating ransom for the passengers? What if some passengers preferred a brief cruise attending catered fish frys and clam bakes to having to go home and go out looking for a job? So it’s up to you. I don’t even know what a Somalian looks like, but if you see anybody on the ferry carrying what appears to be an AK-47, call 911. You’ve been warned.

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.