Essays
Modern Piracy
-- by Emery Linden

Piracy is the seizure on the high seas, by violence and force of arms, of vessels, cargoes, and persons, without government authorization and in the private interests of the predators. Pirates were in history, considered to be at war with every other person in every society, and thus they are at war with the pirates. The Law of Nations, the International Law under it’s original name, permitted the people, and forces of any nation to seize persons considered to be pirates, try them for their crimes and hang them on behalf of all civilized nations of the world.

Pirate activities are currently, and commonly believed to have flourished in the 17th to the 18th century. The piracy of those times was a product of many centuries of fighting between the English and Spanish forces over the gold and silver wrought by the Indian slaves from the mines of the New World. Thus, many ships and sailors were engaged in this struggle, when peace finally came, in the late 1600’s, there were many ships and men still in the region that didn’t want to give up their trade. If they could no longer live and fight in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico for the Spanish or the English, they would serve themselves in a part of the world they knew and loved. This "Golden Age" of piracy is recent enough to leave behind many accurate accounts, court records and much romantic, and colorful fiction.

However, piracy continues to this day, and the commercial world seems to be engaged in a never-ending struggle to wipe out piracy in this 21st century. The United Nations, nor any other government organization seems to have hard data on the cost and frequency of pirate attacks. However, a private, not-for-profit group, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce based in London, England seeks to record and measure the frequency and severity of pirate attacks as the information is reported

Between 1991 and 1997 alone, the complete seizure and hijacking of ships in international trade increased from approximately 100 to 200 reported attacks, and the dollar value of the property thus stolen grew twelve times over. The number of reported attacks between 1991 and 2000, grew from under 100, to nearly 500. The overall trend displays a severe increase in attacks off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Ecuador, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Somalia, Guyana, and in the waters of the Malacca Straight, South China Sea, and the Red Sea.

The coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and other narrow passages in the in the South China Sea, are hot spots for worldwide piracy, accounting for much of the yearly economic loss. The west coast of Africa is another area of concentrated pirate activity, but the east coast nations of Somalia and Yemen are also affected. Brazil, with its long coast line, has particularly suffered a scourge of pirate activities. In the Americas, piracy is intermixed with, and difficult to distinguish, from the crime that accompanies drug smuggling. In the Caribbean, there’ve been a number of incidents in recent years in which violence has been visited upon the crews and passengers of private yachts cruising between the islands.

The kinds of attacks were mostly ship boardings, seconded by attempted boardings. Where the kinds of ships attacked were primarily bulk cargo carriers, container ships, and fishing boats. The crews of ships attacked were often held hostage or injured before the pirates departed.

The concentrations of pirate activities may be explained. It is relatively easy, with high speed boats carrying armed, and even unarmed men to attack a container ship in a narrow passage, climb aboard near the bow with grappling irons and ropes, break into containers and lower valuable electronic equipment to their associates below and speed away within a few minutes. The ships’ officers observe from the bridge, but are often not trained or equipped for combat and the ship owners urge them not to interfere, since the percentage of profit lost is low.

However, a trend over the years shows a transition between 95% of the attacks in 1996 being unar0med, to 0% of the attacks in 2000 being unarmed, and 90% of the attacks armed with either guns or knives, this may show that the boarders seem to be expecting resistance from the crew members. This conclusion is supported by reports that there were less crew members taken hostage or threatened in 2000 than in any year since 1991 and as recent as 2002. Also there were more crew members both injured and killed in 2000 than in any other recorded year, this information supports the conclusion of resistance from ships and their crews as well.

Efforts to combat piracy certainly seem to be a major concern amongst shipping companies today. As many businesses, such as Secure-Marine (http://www.secure-marine.com) make their profits by selling electric fences fully adapted to maritime use, or electric fences to surround small ports and shipping yards. The Secure-Ship is a recent and supposedly effective innovation against piracy, a non-lethal electrifying fence surrounding the whole ship, specially adapted to maritime use. The fence uses a 9,000-volt pulse to deter boarding attempts. An intruder coming in contact with the fence will receive an unpleasant, non-lethal shock that is intended to deter the intruder and force abandonment of boarding. However further, and specific information is only disclosed to certified shipping companies. The Secure-Ship system is not the only means offered to owners that protects the ships and their cargoes. An inexpensive, satellite tracking system, ShipLoc, (http://www.shiploc.com) allows companies to monitor the exact location of their vessels.

Still the cost of training crews to fight back against pirate boardings remains to be more costly than the profit gained justifies. The IMB, measured the 1995 worldwide loss to pirates to be over sixty two million dollars. The IMB also pointed out that the total value of international shipping is so huge that the pirate’s share amounts to approximately only three cents for every thousand dollars of cargo delivered. The ship owners, cargo shippers, and their insurance companies do not yet face a situation severe enough to lead them to demand that governments and the United Nations take a more active role to end the seizure of vessels, cargoes, and persons on the high seas without governmental authorization, and in the private interests of the predators.

Pirate history will continue to be written so long as cargoes are shipped, and efforts may, or may not, be taken against piracy by the governments and peoples of, which are offended.

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