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Doug's Diggings: We need technology (high or low) to stop pirates

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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

There are always things going on in the world that amaze me.

Often it has to do with unbelievable technology. It amazes me that people can watch me, my home and my movement from some satellite in outer space. It amazes me that I can sit on a computer in my home and find any bit of information on virtually any subject - I remember the days when having a good set of encyclopedias in the house and making a trip to the library was as good as it could get!

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I'm amazed when I watch "Forensic Files" on television - if criminals would watch this show before they commit a crime, they might realize that technology has advanced to the point where it could be nearly impossible to get away with a serious crime. At least that's the way it looks on the TV show.

But, then I'm also amazed by how under-advanced we are in some areas. The latest example is the success of the Somali pirates. This all sounds like something out of the 18th century - a little boat with a few thugs overtakes an ocean liner - demands some ransom and gets away with millions of dollars! It amazes me that in this day and age these attacks could be so successful!

Where's the high-tech technology? Where's the low-tech technology? A few sharpshooters or rocket-launchers on an ocean-going vessel ought to be able to stop the pirates in their tracks!

The mainstream press is just beginning to highlight these pirates. That's especially true in light of the takeover of the USS Bainbridge, the capture - and ultimate release - of Captain Richard Phillips.

Because of Somalia's proximity to the Persian Gulf and the Suez Canal, nearly 16,000 ships travel off the coast of the country every year. Meanwhile, Somalia has been submersed in civil war since 1991. Chaos and lawlessness have spread across the land, and piracy at sea has rocketed in recent years.

Somali pirates received over $150 million during the 12 months prior to November 2008. What makes this all work, of course, is that some ship owners are willing to pay the ransom and cut company losses. For example, an oil tanker seized on Nov. 17, 2008, had just been built at a cost of $150 million. It carried an oil cargo valued at $100 million. Paying a ransom of even several million dollars is sometimes perceived as an acceptable alternative.

It just doesn't seem like an acceptable alternative in this day and age when technology in a satellite can watch me take out my garbage on Wednesday night!

Speaking of Richard Phillips, there is a strong local connection with the captain of the USS Bainbridge. Phil Pfuehler of the River Falls Journal reported that Bill Coggio, town of Troy, has a family connection to Phillips.

Phillips is Coggio's brother-in-law. Coggio's older sister, Andrea, is the wife of Phillips. "It's in the realm of the bizarre," Bill Coggio said last week, before Phillips was rescued by U.S. Navy sharpshooters. "You hope for the best and try to maintain as much normalcy as you can. But you're still anxious. Sleep is certainly not as restful."

Coggio, 45, is a 3M research scientist. His wife, Grace, is an adjunct faculty member in communication studies and theater arts at UW-River Falls. The couple has three children -- a fourth-grader, a seventh-grader, and a sophomore at River Falls High School. The family has lived in the town of Troy since 2001.

Bill said his brother-in-law, who captained the hijacked cargo ship, was very much aware of the growing pirate threat in that part of the world.

"They had stepped up training to prepare," he said.

Bill said that watching tragedies unfold on the news is so different when it hits home and affects your family.

"It's crazy, unreal, more intense," he said. "In this case, the outpouring of support from around the world has been just phenomenal."

Although these hijackings have been going on for quite some time, the activity has hit a new level of awareness in our part of the world. With the high-profile case of the USS Bainbridge, you can be sure there will be more pressure - especially from the United States - to stop the current level of pirating. It's time to put some of that amazing technology (high or low) to work!

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