Although piracy continues unabated off the Somali coast, “we the people” have largely moved on to more compelling matters like the Palin book barrage, Lou Dobb’s retirement, and oh yes, Health Care reform. A couple of items did sneak into the popular press in the past week that cause me to wonder “what were the thinking?”
The first that comes to mind is the case of a British couple named Chandler.
The Chandlers, married for 28 years, took early retirement about three years ago, sailing around the world. In an entry on a Web site in June they wrote that they were headed for Tanzania, after initially delaying a voyage there “because of the Somali pirate problem.”
You already can surmise the rest: They got within range of the bad guys who grabbed them, apparently in plain view of a Royal Navy boat (another matter entirely). Now the pirates are issuing videos, ransom demands, and death threats.
If you’re the Chandlers, this is clearly not good. But I am left asking, not only “what were they thinking?”, but what was the alternative they rejected when they chose to go whistling by pirate land?
One of the big decision traps is a failure to grapple with uncertainty. One of the big ways that shows up is the understandable assumption that the future will look like the past . . . in other words, all the interesting uncertainties are known and accounted for. Another version is a failure of imagination: You have no interest in thinking about what you don’t know and what could go wrong. Finally (but not exhaustively), you may have identified the key uncertainties and decided to go forward anyway.
I have no idea the Chandler’s thought process, but at least according to the news item, the Chandlers were aware of the whole pirate problem. If your intent is to sail around the world on a 38 foot boat (hardly a yacht by the way), sticking reasonably close to land is probably a good idea, but not something you’re going to have much luck with when it comes to crossing either the Pacific or the Atlantic.
Tanzania is just south of Somalia, separated by a chunk of Kenyan coast line.
- Choice A is keep to the coast. Key Risk Factor: Capture by Pirates. Probable outcome: Held for ransom; death possible.
- Choice B is to head east towards India. Key Risk Factor: Weather. Probable outcome: You get wet; death possible.
Meanwhile, news of another pirate attack, this one on a ship called the Maersk Alabama raises another version of the same question, “What were they thinking?”
Somali pirates attacked the Maersk Alabama on Wednesday for the second time in seven months and were thwarted by private guards on board the U.S.-flagged ship who fired off guns and a high-decibel noise device.
Hmmmm, something about the name of that ship is familiar. Oh, wait . . .
Pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama last April and took ship captain Richard Phillips hostage, holding him at gunpoint in a lifeboat for five days. Navy SEAL sharpshooters freed Phillips while killing three pirates in a daring nighttime attack.
I guess the whole thing worked so well the last time the locals thought they’d try to crash that party again.
Four suspected pirates in a skiff attacked the ship again on Wednesday around 6:30 a.m. local time, firing on the ship with automatic weapons from about 300 yards (meters) away, a statement from the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said.
An on-board security team repelled the attack by using evasive maneuvers, small-arms fire and a Long Range Acoustic Device, which can beam earsplitting alarm tones, the fleet said.
In this case, the pirates live to play another day. It doesn’t matter what they were thinking. The ship owners looked at the same information available to the Chandlers, framed the problem statement differently, and came up with what appears to have been a superior choice.
Note to owners of 38 foot sail boats: Think about taking another route.