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Ryan Hagen

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The New Anti-piracy: High-stakes Hijacking on the Open Sea

What do you do with a captured pirate? In the murky world of pirate hunting, it's anybody's guess. The morning after pirates hijacked the North Korean freighter Dai Hong Dan off the coast of Somalia, the North Korean government got Noel Choong on the line. They'd never dealt with him before, but he has..

What do you do with a captured pirate? In the murky world of pirate hunting, it's anybody's guess.

The morning after pirates hijacked the North Korean freighter Dai Hong Dan off the coast of Somalia, the North Korean government got Noel Choong on the line. They'd never dealt with him before, but he has a publicly listed number. And when pirates attack, Choong is the person you call."We don't have a warship, of course," says Choong. "Even if we did, we couldn't go into any country's territorial waters." Instead, Choong acts like a global 911 dispatcher. He coordinates with government officials, directs an intricate network of informants, and passes on reports of pirate attacks to a navies with the firepower to break up a hijacking in progress. He does all this as the director of the Piracy Reporting Center, a watchpost and intelligence outfit in Kuala Lumpur, which operates the world's only 24-hour piracy hotline.So when the North Koreans rang about their hijacked freighter, Choong handed off their report to the U.S. Navy headquarters in Bahrain. The Americans quickly dispatched a destroyer to intercept the ship, and rescue its 23-man crew. It remains the only time the U.S. military has aided North Korea since the outbreak of the Korean War, nearly 60 years ago. But when I ask Choong if that makes this kind of rescue extraordinary, he says "Not at all.""You are talking about life and death," says Choong, his Malay-inflected English delicate and precise. "The U.S., British, or any other military, if there is any problem at sea which involves life, they will respond without questioning politics." And so that's what they did that day in late October, 2007. Of course, it doesn't always go so smoothly.

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