5 things you didn’t know about maritime piracy

5 things you didn’t know about maritime piracy

We’ve all heard the folk tales about maritime piracy – the skull and crossbones, the search for buried treasure and legendary buccaneers like Captain Hook and Red Beard. Many of these legends stem from the colonial era, when ships carried valuable goods back and forth from the New World to Europe. While those days are long gone, piracy still threatens maritime commerce in certain parts of the world.

But pirate tales, just like back then, tend to be exaggerated, often obscuring the facts. Here are five things you probably didn’t know about maritime piracy, from Out2Sea.com.

1. Somali piracy originated with fishermen

After the Maersk Alabama incident about a decade ago, Somali piracy gained international attention. But did you know that piracy in this region started with Somalis trying to protect their fishing industry from foreign competition? When a civil war broke out in 1991, the federal government of Somalia ceased to be able to protect its waters. As a result, fishing boats from other countries began to move in, much to the chagrin of Somalis. The very first “pirates” sought to preserve their domestic fishing industry by boarding ships and demanding a fee to fish in the nation’s coastal waters.

Somali pirates

A visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team captures suspected Somali pirates after responding to a merchant vessel distress signal.

2. Floating armories help protect ships in high-risk areas

Due to the threat of Somali piracy, parts of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have been designated as high-risk areas. Most ships use an armed security team to help thwart maritime piracy in this region. But this team doesn’t stay with the ship for the entire journey. Rather, security contractors wait on floating armories, located at strategic points on the high seas. The armories consist of tug boats tied together. Large cargo ships and tankers pass by to pick up as much security (and weapons) as they need.

3. Maritime piracy is expensive

Those floating armories better be worth it, right? Well it turns out that maritime piracy comes at a high cost. In fact, experts say it costs the international economy between $7 and $12 billion each year. Unfortunately, many incidents go unreported, due to potential cost increases for transporters. Insurance rates can rise drastically after a pirate attack, which decreases the incentive for many ship captains and shipping companies to report incidents.

4. Most piracy incidents actually occur within territorial waters

Yes, ships still do get attacked in the Indian Ocean or Gulf of Aden, when they’re on the open ocean. While this is the primary modus operandi for Somali pirates, maritime piracy is also pretty common in Southeast Asia, as well as the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. In these regions, pirates tend to target vessels that are anchored or coming into port. While these acts are often lumped into the category of “maritime piracy,” the technical term used by industry experts is “armed robbery.”

5. Piracy and terrorism sometimes go hand in hand

Although it’s not common, Islamic militant groups often contribute to maritime piracy. One group, Abu Sayyaf, operates in the Sulu and Celebes seas near the Philippines. After several hijackings in the area last year, three countries in this region (Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines) established a joint task force to thwart these militants and limit their impact on maritime commerce. Terrorist groups like Abu Sayyaf often take hostages and demand steep ransoms.

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