Jim Mullen column: A career path to piracy
“Arrrgh! Pirates be back! Let’s keelhaul the swine ó no, belay that, walking the plank be better for these lily-livered sons of a jellyfish.”
The recent news that pirates have commandeered an oil tanker 400 miles off the coast of Somalia was quite a surprise. The surprise being that in 2008 there are still pirates. I mean the kind of pirates that hijack billion-dollar ships, not the evil cutthroats that download Madonna’s music for free. And as we all know, if you’re caught pirating Madonna’s music, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But if you hijack a ship on the open ocean, you can bet that nothing will happen to you, and no one will ever bother track you down.
I used to think seafaring pirates had gone the way of highwaymen, footpads, cut purses and stagecoach robbers. I didn’t know you could become a pirate today any more than you could become a cooper or a lady’s maid. How do you get to be a pirate in the first place? Do you take an aptitude test?
“What do you like better ó parrots or albatrosses? Do you prefer hands or hooks? Would you rather swab decks or sit in an office? Where would keep your retirement money? A 401(k) or a treasure chest? Do you like heavy metal or sea shanties? Do you prefer a glass of chardonnay or bottle of rum? English muffins or hardtack? Do you get seasick? Do you like to climb ropes, hand over hand, holding a knife in your teeth? Ever wear an eye patch just for fun? Do you like Errol Flynn movies?”
Or is being a pirate something your high school guidance counselor might recommended as a good career path? “Tell me, have you ever read ‘Treasure Island?’ There are plenty of opportunities in pirating and now may be the time to get in on the ground floor. And you don’t need to spend $40,000 a year on college. You can make $50,000 a year ransoming oil tankers and cruise ships. You don’t even have to join a fraternity or learn how to binge drink. Sure, you have to start at the bottom, but there are plenty of great benefits. You’re practically on a cruise all the time. You don’t have to decide now, but give it a thought. The other career choices for someone with your grades are dishwasher at a fast food place or crash test dummy. Don’t be a stranger.”
Actually, it’s not much of a mystery why someone would want to become a pirate. It’s the money, which is the same reason people want to become shipping magnates. The money is good and you don’t have to work too hard. But here’s what I don’t understand. If you’re smart enough and rich enough to build a half-billion-dollar oil tanker, why aren’t you smart enough to protect it from pirates? How smart do you have to be to hire a security guard with a gun ó especially if you know you’re sending your ship into pirate-infested waters?
For a while, I wondered how the pirates were going to get a million gallons of oil into a treasure chest, much less bury it. “X” would have to mark one big spot. It turns out, all they want is a ransom. “Give us a lot of money we didn’t earn and don’t deserve and we won’t hurt your property,” is what they are saying. It leads me to believe the pirates are more educated than I thought. You only learn that kind of thing at the best business schools.
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Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.”