ON MARCH 26th, the Dewi Madrim, a chemical tanker off the coast of Sumatra, was boarded by ten pirates from a speedboat. They were armed with machine guns and machetes and carried VHF radios. They disabled the ship's radio, took the helm and steered the vessel, altering speed, for about an hour. Then they left, with some cash and the captain and first officer, who are still missing.
...The temporary hijacking of the Dewi Madrim was by terrorists learning to drive a ship, and the kidnapping (without any attempt to ransom the officers) was aimed at acquiring expertise to help the terrorists mount a maritime attack. In other words, attacks like that on the Dewi Madrim are the equivalent of the al-Qaeda hijackers who perpetrated the September 11th attacks going to flying school in Florida.
...The Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines kidnapped a maintenance engineer in a Sabah holiday resort in 2000. On his release in June this year, the engineer said his kidnappers knew he was a diving instructor; they wanted instruction. The owner of a diving school near Kuala Lumpur has recently reported a number of ethnic Malays wanting to learn about diving, but being strangely uninterested in learning about decompression.
...On September 16th 2001, America closed the port of Boston, fearing that terrorists would attack the gas terminal in the port. To this day, gas tankers bound for Boston have to be escorted by coastguards from 200 miles away from the port.
An incident on October 18th 2001 increased anxieties about terrorists using shipping, especially container ships, to smuggle people and explosives around the world. Authorities in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro found a stowaway in a well-appointed container, fitted out with a bed, toilet, heater and water. He also had a laptop computer, mobile and satellite phones, and airport security passes and a mechanic's certificate for JFK, Newark, Los Angeles International and Chicago O'Hare airports. Fears grew further after a torpedo attack by terrorists on a French tanker, the MV Limburg, in Yemen in October 2002.
The likeliest terrorist target is a tanker carrying liquefied petroleum gas (easier to explode than natural gas), reckons Aegis's Tim Spicer, formerly a British soldier and head of Sandline, a “private military company” (a euphemism for a supplier of mercenaries) that achieved notoriety for its work for the British government in Sierra Leone. He fears that hijacked gas and oil tankers could be used to block the Malacca Strait, or the Panama or Suez Canals. That could wreak economic havoc. The UN estimates that ships carry 80% of the world's traded cargo—5.8 billion tonnes in 2001.
...On October 1st, America's Bureau of Customs and Border Protection was supposed to introduce new rules requiring shipping lines to advise the agency by computer or by fax about the contents of incoming cargo vessels. It now says it has delayed publishing its requirements until later this month—although it is not entirely clear why.
I wonder what kind of comic books Zawahiri read as a child in Egypt? Maybe that would help predict his next move. So much of Al Qaeda's plans and actions reminds one of the antagonists of the 1970's X-Men comics. What a world.