Pirate hunters are much cooler than pirates


sinkingthunder

The Thunder was a criminal ship that was plundering international waters.

Banned since 2006 from fishing in the Antarctic, the Thunder had been spotted there repeatedly in recent years, prompting Interpol to issue an all-points bulletin on it in December 2013. The vessel was described as the most egregious of the ships then on its Purple Notice list, collecting over $76 million from illicit sales in the past decade, more than any other ship, according to agency estimates. The Thunder’s prime catch was toothfish, more popularly called Chilean sea bass, known on docks as “white gold” because its fillets often sell for $30 a plate or more in upscale restaurants in the United States.

The Thunder’s status as a fugitive hardly slowed it down. By keeping its locational transponder turned off, it could fish and then slip in and out of ports undetected. The ship’s name and port registry, which have changed more than a half-dozen times, were not painted on its hull, the typical practice, but on a metal sign hung from its stern. (Sailors call such signs “James Bond license plates” because they can be easily swapped out.) In March, the Thunder was stripped of its registration by Nigeria and became officially stateless, which meant that marine authorities from any country could board and arrest its crew.

“Sea Shepherd is doing what no one else will,” said Peter Whish-Wilson, an Australian senator. “The urgency of this problem has grown,” he added, “but the government response, from all governments really, has fallen.”

So the Sea Shepherd organization tracked them down and chased them across several oceans. Read the whole dramatic story.

And now I want to be a pirate hunter when I grow up.

Comments

  1. inflection says

    While I deplore and denounce the actions of groups like PETA and most aggressive tactics in general regarding animal and environmental welfare, I have after extensive consideration decided that I am ethically comfortable with Sea Shepherd’s acts against whaling ships — and those of similar organizations, now that Sea Shepherd itself doesn’t.

    The larger whales, elephants, and possibly some of the more complex and social primates, strike me as intelligent enough that they deserve the same right to safety as humans, for the same ethical reason: that they have complex internal universes, that they can comprehend harm and death, and impending harm and death, to themselves and to individuals close to them, and that this causes them the kind of emotional anguish it does to us.

    I might think if we had the chance to compare MRI scans of these creatures and our Neanderthal cousins we would probably find a great deal of similarity.

  2. otrame says

    @inflection,

    While I agree that that killing whales, elephants and primates (not just the complex ones) or indeed, ANY animal that you do not intend to eat should not be allowed (except in very specific and limited circumstances), your final sentence falls into the Not Even Wrong category for several reasons. For one thing, Neanderthals had bigger brains per weight than we do. As for brain structure, we don’t know much about the structure of Neanderthal brains except where said brains were in contact with the skulls (though we are pretty sure they were almost exactly like ours), but leaving that aside, there are big differences between humans and other intelligent species.

  3. consciousness razor says

    inflection:

    The larger whales, elephants, and possibly some of the more complex and social primates, strike me as intelligent enough that they deserve the same right to safety as humans, for the same ethical reason: that they have complex internal universes, that they can comprehend harm and death, and impending harm and death, to themselves and to individuals close to them, and that this causes them the kind of emotional anguish it does to us.

    Well, I guess you’re getting close to the right place but you’re taking an awfully strange route.

    Humans don’t all have the same level of intelligence. You’d presumably agree that two year old children shouldn’t be harmed, even if they can’t “comprehend harm and death” as I can or if they’re not intelligent enough to have mental or social lives that are as “complex” as mine. A two year old can’t treat me very morally because they haven’t developed a very sophisticated understanding of that or how their relationships with others ought to work, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t act that way toward them. I should act that way toward them (i.e. I shouldn’t harm them) because they’re capable of being harmed, not because they’re capable of comprehending harm done to them in any specific way or because I have some guarantee that they’ll act that way toward me. If a two year old hits me and doesn’t really get why that’s wrong because they don’t have a complex mental or social life (yet), I shouldn’t hit them back, period.

    It makes no difference that they’re part of the same species or have some kind of potential (because they’re human) to eventually have some deep understanding what’s going on when they’re harmed (or not harmed) — the ethical reasons I have for my own actions are independent of all that. I shouldn’t treat them a certain way because they’re the same species and I have some kind of motivation to preserve human DNA (or to preserve DNA that makes “complex” animals) — the motivation ought to do with the consequences of the particular act itself: it’s helping/harming something that can simply have positive/negative feelings. It doesn’t need to be anything very complicated or intelligent or sociable to simply have a condition like that.

  4. Broken Things says

    That was an amazing story. It’s clear though that the efforts of groups like Sea Shepard will never be enough. Our countries’ mutual unwillingness to negotiate and fund an agreement where there are realistic and effective ways to prevent piracy does not augur well for the future. If we can put UN peace-keeping forces on the ground, what prevents us from doing the same with an international naval force? The expense of losing the world’s fishing stocks is going to be a lot greater and more destabilizing to the world than the cost of keeping pirates and criminally negligent shipping companies off the oceans.

  5. raefn says

    The Sea Shepherd organization has done some good things, but we should still reserve the right to criticize their errors. Their founder, Paul Watson, was kicked out of Greenpeace for being too radical. In his own words, from http://www.seashepherd.org/commentary-and-editorials/2008/10/30/the-beginning-of-the-end-for-life-as-we-know-it-on-planet-earth-340

    We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion. We need to eliminate nationalism and tribalism and become Earthlings. And as Earthlings, we need to recognize that all the other species that live on this planet are also fellow citizens and also Earthlings. This is a planet of incredible diversity of life-forms; it is not a planet of one species as many of us believe.

    We need to remove and destroy all fences and barriers that bar wildlife from moving freely across the land. We need to lower populations of domestic housecats and dogs. Already the world’s housecats consume more fish than all the world’s seals and we have made the cow into the largest aquatic predator on the planet because more than one half of all fish taken from the sea is converted into meal for animal feed.

  6. Broken Things says

    @raefn
    None of that sounds particularly radical to me, in fact it just sounds like the truth. And what the Sea Shepard boats did was epic and brave in the face of what amounts criminal negligence on the parts of the companies and countries involved. This is not the time for cautious action. We and the planet are way beyond that.

  7. tbtabby says

    When i think of cool pirate hunters, I usually think of Roronoa Zoro, but what Sea Shepherd did was awesome too. They could make a movie about this chase!

  8. brett says

    I wonder if the US or another country could ever issue Letters of Marque authorizing this type of stuff, in lieu of the lack of a governing response or enforcement mechanism for dealing with poaching on the high seas (I know countries are supposed to deal with ships flying their flags, but that doesn’t happen).

  9. says

    I follow Sea Shepherd on FB. They were updating this campaign as it unfolded and it was awesome to see the real & immediate effect they had on the pirates. It was equally disheartening to see the utter apathy of local law enforcement regarding enforcing their local laws. It’s as disheartening as Australian authorities giving absolutely no fucks about Japanese whale-pirates operating in illegally our waters and in designated sanctuaries in the southern seas. Thankfully, Sea Shepherd are a reliable presence during these hunts and I always give a little fist-pump when I see a “no-kill” update (no such luck during this year’s farcical “grind”, an annual whale-massacre held in Denmark’s Faroese islands).

    The Thunder was just one of their successes over the last year or so; I recommend following Sea Shepherd online if you’re at all concerned over sea mammals and overfishing. Some call them cowboys and vigilantes; even if those descriptions were accurate, I still wouldn’t give half a fuck because while some pirates might have Interpol’s attention, only SS appear to be prepared to put their resources where their mouths are. Sadly, Aussie authorities appear far too preoccupied with intercepting asylum-seeker boats and either turning them around or flying the occupants to their countries of origin in the dead of night than protecting our oceans from actual, tangible threats.

  10. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    Three cheers for the Bob Barker and the Sam Simon!

    @ inflection

    I’m of the opinion that the only good reasons for killing anything is to feed yourself or for self-defence, and it must always be done sustainably and responsibly. Anything else is immoral, to varying degrees.

    they have complex internal universes

    What? What does this even mean?

    … if we had the chance to compare MRI scans of these creatures and our Neanderthal cousins we would probably find a great deal of similarity.

    … between the brain of a primate and a cetacean? I very much doubt it. Or at least, I doubt you’d find any similarities beyond those superficial similarities that all mammals share. The fact that something is intelligent and emotional in no way implies that it is physiologically similar to ourselves.

  11. opposablethumbs says

    re #8 and #9, I don’t think it’s nearly as outlandish as it sounds either. While I don’t think the optimal population level is necessarily quite that low, the idea of a significant reduction obviously has much in its favour – and not by draconian measures: if every woman and man on the planet had proper access to contraception, if every woman had proper access to abortion, if every person had full bodily autonomy and the security that they were not going to be destitute and their children were not going to die in infancy … the birthrate would go down, obviously. By how much remains to be seen, but the possibility that a sustainable population level could be achieved via education, reproductive healthcare and social stability enabling people to take the decisions they actually want to take is surely worth serious consideration!

  12. Alverant says

    PZ before you become a pirate hunter, read about what happened to Captain Kidd. I recommend The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks. It’s a fascinating read.

  13. marcus says

    inflection @ 2 There is a magnificent book, Beyond Words, What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina that should be read by anyone that gives a minimum of fucks about the real emotional lives and intelligence of animals in the wild. He writes in depth about elephants, wolves, and killer whales. The research is fascinating, the writing is beautiful.
    I am reviewing for the local paper, from my review,
    “As a lifelong student of animal behavior.. I had somehow assumed that my quest was to let animals show how much they are like us. My task now–a much harder task, a much deeper task–would be to endeavor to see who animals simply are–like us or not.” Carl Safina
    Personally, I admire and support the work of Sea Shepherd.

  14. raefn says

    @#9, I agree that human population should be controlled, as well as pets and meat animals. We should stop using fossil fuels. However, Paul Watson goes much too far. Extremely limited travel between communities? With the limits on industrial technology and production he proposes, would it even be possible to maintain effective communication systems between communities? What about higher education and medical care? Again, their work to protect sea life is vital and extraordinary. Still, we should not blindly approve of everything they say and do.
    Paul Watson, again

    Human communities should be maintained in small population enclaves within linked wilderness ecosystems. No human community should be larger than 20,000 people and separated from other communities by wilderness areas. Communication systems can link the communities.

    In other words, people should be placed in parks within ecosystems instead of parks placed in human communities. We need vast areas of the planet where humans do not live at all and where other species are free to evolve without human interference.

    We need to stop burning fossil fuels and utilize only wind, water, and solar power with all generation of power coming from individual or small community units like windmills, waterwheels, and solar panels.

    Sea transportation should be by sail. The big clippers were the finest ships ever built and sufficient to our needs. Air transportation should be by solar powered blimps when air transportation is necessary.

    All consumption should be local. No food products need to be transported over hundreds of miles to market. All commercial fishing should be abolished. If local communities need to fish the fish should be caught individually by hand.

    We need to stop flying, stop driving cars, and jetting around on marine recreational vehicles. The Mennonites survive without cars and so can the rest of us.

  15. says

    The fact that something is intelligent and emotional in no way implies that it is physiologically similar to ourselves…

    My (brags) very bright daughter and I were mulling this in discussion of efforts of some researchers to work out dolphin ‘language’ a while ago. It struck me given the strong indications we have that these animals effectively sense their surroundings with a form of active sonar, and can apparently, in a sense, ‘piggyback’ on other’s ‘send’ to glean information, that this could well be the basis of their communication, the evolutionary root of any ‘language’, with other weirder possibilities still. It seemed to me one individual could theoretically ‘transmit an image’ to another, a bit like drawing a picture of its own perception or mental state, almost like a modem sending a .png. Regardless, there just seemed little reason to expect the internal mental state or ‘language’ to look at all like ours, notwithstanding the relatively recent evolutionary divergence between us, the means of communications itself almost certainly arising under very different conditions.

    (My daughter had a language teacher was also trying to tell her the essential features of human languages–nouns, verbs, so on–should also turn up in communications between intelligences of any nature, on this planet or any–and here, too, she (and I) thought this hardly a given.)

  16. mostlymarvelous says

    opposablethumbs @14

    re #8 and #9, I don’t think it’s nearly as outlandish as it sounds either. While I don’t think the optimal population level is necessarily quite that low, the idea of a significant reduction obviously has much in its favour – and not by draconian measures: …

    We have to stop thinking just about birthrates and death rates when looking at total population.

    When you look at the presumptions underlying common estimates of population and population growth, you can find the best solutions. http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_religions_and_babies?language=en
    Watching Rosling’s rather clever exercise at the end, you’ll notice (it took me far longer to notice this than I like to admit to myself) he uses 15 years as the gap between generations. What if that gap was 20 or 28 or 35 years? I can’t be bothered redoing the various scenarios I played with on my now sadly deceased computer. However, I can assure everyone that it’s entirely possible to come up with comparative (if not entirely realistic) scenarios showing that a community can have more children per woman than women in a comparison group and simultaneously have a lower total population … by the simple expedient of having a much higher average age at first birth.

    What we need to do is to focus as much, or more, on restricting the number of generations alive at any one time than the number of children in each generation. If the age at first birth in our own families had been 5 or 8 or 10 years higher for the previous 3 or 4 generations, how many of us would now have children or grandchildren of our own? Would we even be here ourselves? If the average age of women at first birth is 20 or 25 or 30, grandmothers are 40 or 50 or 60. No woman can be a great grandmother until she’s 60 or 75 or 90.

    In terms of global population, think about what the total population might now be if the global average age of women at first birth were 5 or 10 years higher than it was. Simplistically, we could just subtract all births for the last 5 or 10 years for a really rough estimate. (Though it’s more complicated than that because changing the number of births also changes the number of deaths in various ways.) Even though the impact on population is not exactly the same as that number, it’s still pretty big.

    A dedicated worldwide focus on education and employment of women and girls is the best way to go. Delaying marriage and first birth while giving girls and women more opportunity to contribute to their society and economy can only be a good thing. And we need to give a lot more thought, and a bit of money, to support projects that most of us in advanced industrial democracies don’t think of unless someone grabs us by the scruff of the neck and makes us look, and think, about obstacles in the way of education of girls in poor communities. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26260978

  17. opposablethumbs says

    mostlymarvelous, yes! Thank you for pointing out the glaring absence – I hadn’t thought of just how important average age at first birth / average generation gap is. Yet another reason to support women’s education/autonomy/improved socioeconomic standing. (Funny how what’s good for women turns out to be good for everybody in terms of improving our chances of having a habitable planet for longer!)

  18. David Marjanović says

    the essential features of human languages–nouns, verbs, so on–

    There seem to be human languages that lack a distinction between nouns and verbs. It’s hard to find out which features, if any, are universal among human languages; many candidates have turned out not to fit.

  19. gmacs says

    @17

    We need to stop flying, stop driving cars, and jetting around on marine recreational vehicles. The Mennonites survive without cars and so can the rest of us.

    I hate recreational vehicles, and really wish my parents would get rid of the money pit and environmental scourge they call a boat. But yeah, he’s a bit out there. He’s right that Mennonites don’t have cars: They have big fuckoff trucks that get probably 15 to the gallon. The Amish are the ones who don’t have motor vehicles (of their own).

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