Predictably, a lot of the coverage of the Costa Allegra has focused on the “pirate infested” waters of the Indian Ocean. Just about the only thing that news organizations KNOW about that part of the world is that there are pirates there, and “pirate infested” is a great way of getting page views. (Predictably, the BBC has the best coverage, so read their article for a good roll-up of the sitation.)
The problem is that piracy just isn’t the most important issue here. While pirate activity is high in the area, a damaged cruise ship is a TERRIBLE target for piracy. First of all, between passengers and crew there are nearly 1000 people on board. The ransom process for a vessel typically takes months – the pirates would run out of food for the hostages long before then, meaning they either have to let hostages die of hunger (which guarantees international military action) or arrange for food to be delivered (which is damn near impossible). Second of all, the different nationalities and high profile of such an event would pretty much guarantee coordinated military action.
Lastly, and most importantly, remember that the CRUISE SHIP IS BROKEN. If the pirates capture it, they are stuck on it – they can’t take it to Somalia for ransom. They are just sitting ducks, a dozen guys with rifles on a ship with 1000 angry passengers and the entire weight of the international special forces community bearing down on them.
For the TLDR crowd, the Costa Allegra is currently being towed by a French fishing boat. Marine law demands that mariners help each other out at sea like this fishing boat is doing – but it also demands compensation for services rendered. Marine law is ridiculously complex, and there are a couple of other tugs moving to render assistance, but compensation for uncontracted towing services like this is typically measured as a percentage of the cost of the thing towed – which means even a 1% commission would be a $6M windfall for the fishing boat!