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The Renaissance of Piracy

Updated on February 17, 2012

© Mpirrello 2012

The crew of the hijacked Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck, under the watch of armed Somali pirates on November 9 after a US Navy request to check on their health and welfare, at sea off the coast of Somalia. (HO/AFP/Getty Images)
The crew of the hijacked Ukrainian merchant vessel MV Faina stand on the deck, under the watch of armed Somali pirates on November 9 after a US Navy request to check on their health and welfare, at sea off the coast of Somalia. (HO/AFP/Getty Images) | Source

New Characters, New Plot, Same Goal

The practice of piracy has long been thought of as extinct, outdated and archaic by many people today because of the lack of publicity the issue receives, but no longer is this the case. When the average person is asked to think of a pirate, they typically envision the Hollywood version of them, namely the blockbuster series Pirates of the Caribbean, which features swashbuckling outlaws fighting against the establishment for a just cause. However, this inaccurate representation cannot be applied to the modern-day pirates who are nothing like the romanticized images from childhood stories. The pirates terrorizing the waters off the coast of Somalia engage in the lowest forms of criminal activity, including kidnapping, extortion and murder. While it is true that they believe themselves to be freedom fighters acting on behalf of their cause, they are more than just a ragtag band of peasants desperate for a new source of income. These pirates have systematically evolved into various organized crime syndicates which successfully take on the international shipping industry in a conflict that they are prepared to die for. While the jury is still out on what their intent is, the issue of who is winning the conflict remains one that sparks debate. The past few years have helped clarify the answer to the question as to who has the upper hand in the new golden age of piracy. The international community is losing the war on piracy because it has not only failed to stop the attacks and robberies committed by these criminals, but it has also failed to think of a long term solution to a rapidly increasing problem.


Life's a beach
Life's a beach

Despite the continued number of attacks on mariners and sailors in the region, there are still people who point to the cooperation and coordination of different nations as evidence of success in this fight. These advocates accentuate the numerous ‘crackdowns’ and eager responses from different countries to combat the threat that pirates pose. Evidence of this reaction can be found in the International Chamber of Commerce’s Maritime Bureau report that compiled a chart chronicling the number of pirate attacks from 1994 to 2005. In this document, they noted that the number of attacks in 2003 was 445, compared to only 273 attacks in 2005.[1] The decline is attributed to increased pressure by the United Nations to coerce local governments and law enforcement in the area to be more proactive when combating piracy. This reaction by the global community was further emphasized when naval vessels from various nations set sail for the troubled waters of the Indian Ocean to protect commerce and travellers that passed through, regardless of nationality. In her article, “Pirates Bringing Us Together”, reporter Oh Kongdan wrote about this unusual phenomenon proving true the old adage, people helping people. Despite tensions running high between different nations today, the list of universal kindness is still a basic trait:

In May 2009 a South Korean naval helicopter chased off pirates pursuing a North Korean freighter. And in October 2007 a helicopter from a U.S. navy ship, coming to the rescue of hijacked North Korean freighter, distracted the pirates so that the North Korean crew could fight them off and regain control of their ship. After the firefight, three wounded North Korean sailors were taken on board the U.S. navy ship for treatment.[2]


Last Monday, pirates pursuing the South Korean cargo ship Daisy were thwarted in their efforts to hijack the vessel by the Chinese navy. This act of was viewed as a “welcome sign” with regards to South Korean and Chinese diplomatic relations, given the recent tension caused by North Korea’s nuclear program.[3] People who believe that we are winning the war on piracy believe that this type of cooperation is the key to continued success in combating piracy.


Pirates on deck the MV Faina waiting for the U.S. navy to finish checking the health and status of the captives within
Pirates on deck the MV Faina waiting for the U.S. navy to finish checking the health and status of the captives within | Source

Horst Wolff, a veteran sailor and survivor of what has now become known as “pirates ally”, can attest to the international taskforce’s collaboration in protecting the Suez Canal and western Indian Ocean. As he described to reporters, “It's guarded by all these warships, and Americans are part of this too, French, Russian the Brits and Portuguese - all the major forces of the world patrol this route.”[4] The French frigate “Le Nivose” is proof that the presence of warships has helped successfully contain and reduce pirate attacks in the waters that it is patrolling. Last March, the French military stated that a joint mission with other European naval forces led the Nivose to the “biggest seizure” they had captured so far in the Gulf of Aden. According to a European Union official, "Six pirate action groups have been intercepted, mother ships and skiffs have been destroyed and over 40 pirates have been taken into custody.”[5] This story has been seen as one of the many triumphant stories of the crackdown on piracy becoming an effective universal policy.

The United Nations’ special envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has praised the success the task force has had combating pirates. "It is successful because pirates have to go further away. As a result, pirates have to spend more of the ransom money they receive to hijack ships and avoid arrest.” The international maritime presence in the water is forcing the pirates to be more cautious, wary and it is causing them to think twice before attacking. Ould-Abdallah added, “We have about 100 already arrested. I don't know how many disappeared. ... I think financiers behind them are also aware that they are being watched."[6] This victory has been hard fought, but supporters who believe that the international community is winning the war on piracy say that eliminating the head of the snake, in this case the financers behind the sea bandits, is the first major step in shutting them down for good.


Somali pirate on patrol
Somali pirate on patrol
French door gunner on a Panther helicopter watches over a commercial ship as it enters the Gulf of Aden
French door gunner on a Panther helicopter watches over a commercial ship as it enters the Gulf of Aden | Source

France set the tone of things with regards to the success of one of its first hostage rescue missions when they dealt the pirates a serious blow following a hijacking of a French yacht. After a triumphant rescue mission by French commandos, President Nicolas Sarkozy said of the incident, "France will not allow crime to pay…This operation is a warning to all those who indulge in this criminal activity. This is a call for the mobilisation of the international community." This undertaking was conducted shortly after an earlier raid against pirates holding thirty French sailors went successfully. As Sarkozy put it, he wanted to punish those who engage in this “industry of crime” and send them a “warning”.[7]


French Commandos from the frigate Le Floreal detain a group of suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden
French Commandos from the frigate Le Floreal detain a group of suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden | Source
Captain Philips returning home at last after his captivity by Somali pirates
Captain Philips returning home at last after his captivity by Somali pirates

A Memorable Story

Echoing the idea of a “warning” was the response of the United States Navy in the rescue of Captain Richard Philips in 2009, which some argue is la cerise sur le gateau or the icing on the cake regarding how effective hostage rescues can be. In this instance, the U.S. was more than willing to use force against the Somali pirates and the success of this mission has encouraged many other nations to follow suit. Captain Philips was taken hostage in 2009 after the cargo barge he was piloting, Maersk Alabama, was overtaken by pirates onboard a skiff. After taking Phillips as their hostage, they held him for five days before three out of the four pirates were taken out by U.S. Navy Seals and the fourth was captured prior to the shooting. This powerful action taken by the U.S. Navy reasserted the commitment to keeping the innocent safe using any means necessary. Rescue actions have been bolder on all fronts, not just through governmental action, but private security firms are now making efforts to provide armed guards for yachts and other small vessels going through the pirate-ridden waters of the Indian Ocean. Just the other day, a Dutch couple was rescued by their six armed security guards as pirates tried hijacking the vessel. The head of the firm Naval Guards, Thomas Jakobssen, said that although there were no casualties, the “brief exchange of fire” managed to scare them away.[8] Regardless of which example is the best, they all demonstrate that winning the war on piracy means taking tough action and that means, as columnist Larry M. Elkin pointed out, “…do the one thing that could actually put a stop to this wave of crime on the high seas: make certain that piracy does not pay”[9].


Somali pirates surrendering to French naval forces
Somali pirates surrendering to French naval forces
The 'weapon of choice' for Somali pirates seems to be Kalashnikov assault rifles like this that are outdated but deadly
The 'weapon of choice' for Somali pirates seems to be Kalashnikov assault rifles like this that are outdated but deadly | Source

Spoils for the Victor

There are many who believe that the international community is losing the war on piracy to highly organized criminals who know the limitations and red tape that nations are confined with when pursuing them. The failure of nations as a whole to deal with the pirates is not so much a failure militarily as it is internally. It is no secret that the threat and presence of piracy existed long before 2007, which is when the abductions and hijackings were picked up and covered by the media. The companies and, in some cases even governments, that allowed themselves to be extorted for money only added fuel to the fire and encouraged more Somalis to join ranks with the pirates to make a quick buck. In 2010 for example, there were 53 ships taken and nearly one thousand hostages held for ransom.[10] It has been estimated that pirates operating in the Indian Ocean earn an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion dollars annually and this lucrative industry is very appealing to the poverty stricken fishermen of Somalia.[11] The net worth of just one oil tanker is enough to make the pirates overnight millionaires if they play their cards right. The South Korean tanker, Samho Dream, was ransomed for $9.5 million dollars and the pirates were allowed to escape without any repercussions later on.[12] With oil prices now approaching $100 dollars a barrel, the value of each tanker captured is expected to skyrocket and with the growing demand for the product, companies are more than likely to pay to have it back. More frightening is the fact that as the number of attacks continues to increase, so do the reports of violence, fatalities and in some cases, rape.[13]


Last week, Somali pirates executed four experienced American seafarers who were on their way to Oman before they were hijacked. Following a brief period of captivity, negotiations concerning their release broke down after shots were fired at the U.S. Navy destroyer and the pirates executed their hostages soon after. The U.S. Navy responded by killing two of the thugs and capturing the rest, but this has done little to deter the pirates. Instead, they have now promised to start executing more hostages should the international community interfere with future negotiations.[14] The tragic news of the killings comes prior to a Danish family of seven captured by pirates in the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, for the hostages, they were taken to the mountainous area of Somalia called Hul Anod, which is virtually impenetrable. With a rescue operation out of the question, the only option remaining for the Danish government is negotiation through payment.


Seven detained pirates being led by police officers to court in the port city of Mombasa, Kenya
Seven detained pirates being led by police officers to court in the port city of Mombasa, Kenya | Source

A Global Problem

The global war on piracy is being lost is because of the lack of serious commitment and unity in dealing with the problem of piracy at its source: Somalia. There is no way that any nation can honestly claim that pirates are losing this war with the amount of cargo and hostages that the pirates have in their possession right now. The bandits are emboldened by the inaction and inability to deal with them in an efficient and effective way. Granted, there are some nations who do not hesitate to use force when engaging pirates, but for the most part, negotiations are always the go to option and this signifies weakness in the eyes of the pirates. In 2009 for example, the ICC International Maritime Bureau reported that the number of attacks have surpassed 400 incidents for the first time since 2003.[15] The presence of warships has made the pirates more careful, but not more fearful.


Yemeni coast guard escort the damaged Japanese tanker Takayama into the port of Aden. Many of the Yemeni coast guard do not know how to swim and lack the resources necessary to cover the areas of open water where pirates are active.
Yemeni coast guard escort the damaged Japanese tanker Takayama into the port of Aden. Many of the Yemeni coast guard do not know how to swim and lack the resources necessary to cover the areas of open water where pirates are active. | Source

Analysts are expecting 2011 to be a “banner year” for piracy because of their willingness to go farther out to sea to capture and bring back hostages. Bronwyn Bruton, a member of the One Earth Foundation, predicted in an interview with American Public Media that the situation “will get worse before it gets better”. Bruton described the “extremely alarming trend” regarding the increase in violence and how the implementation of “mother ships” in their attacks has allowed them to go “as far east as India and as far south as Madagascar”.[16] The wide open Indian Ocean makes the pirates versatile in hunting their prey and permits them to escape before any help from a naval vessel can arrive. Vice Admiral Mark Fox of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet summed up the situation, “The scope of the distances that are involved [is] about 1,300 nautical miles. It is a vast, vast area. There are lots of places where we are not."[17]


Yet even if the naval presence in the area was enough, there is no guarantee that the pirates would surrender their occupation just because members of their group have been captured. The reality of the situation is that most pirates are let go because of international laws requiring a certain amount of evidence to be present before an arrest can be made. Moreover, unless pirates are actually caught in the act (i.e. boarding, hijacking, kidnapping etc.) then it is extremely hard to convict them due to lack of evidence.[18] The way to succeed and defeat the new ‘golden age of piracy’ is to first eliminate the source of power that drives these ordinary people to commit extraordinary crimes.


To start winning this war, there needs to be extreme action in the way that the threat of piracy is handled. Instead of capturing and releasing these pirates, a stronger message needs to be sent. A message that is a clear warning to all those who participate in this despicable activity that it will no longer be tolerated. The international community should sponsor a United Nations task force on land to go into heart of Somalia and eradicate the piracy threat where it is strongest. This force should try to stabilize the region and help build up both the local law enforcement and coast guard of Somalia to create jobs and offer a better alternative to the life of poverty and crime that currently exists there. If such an initiative were undertaken, the entire region could eventually be stabilized and the hundreds of hostages and large amount of cargo held could finally be released.


This article was written in the Spring of 2011

© Mpirrello 2012


Works Cited


"2009 Worldwide Piracy Figures Surpass 400." ICC Commercial Crime Services. 14 Jan. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.icc-ccs.org/news/385-2009-worldwide-piracy-figures-surpass-400>.


Burnett, Doug. "To Stop Pirates, Nations Must End Catch and Release Policy." Fox News. 22 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2011/02/22/stop-pirates-nations-end-catch-release-policy/>.


Charbonneau, Louis. "Somalia Piracy Crackdown Shows Signs of Success." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. 29 May 2009. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/05/29/us-somalia-piracy-un-idUSTRE54S6H420090529>.


Curtis, John M. "Somali Pirates Murder with Impunity - Los Angeles City Buzz | Examiner.com." Washington DC News, Washington DC Information, Washington DC Events - Examiner.com | Examiner.com. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.examiner.com/city-buzz-in-los-angeles/somali-pirates-murder-with-impunity>.


Elkin, Larry M. "Stop Paying Ransoms: They Only Lead To More Pirate Attacks." Business Insider. Web. 04 Mar. 2011. <http://www.businessinsider.com/piracy-reaches-its-foregone-conclusion-2011-3>.


"European Naval Forces Capture More Pirates - Africa." IOL | Breaking News | South Africa News | World News | Sport | Business | Entertainment | IOL.co.za. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/european-naval-forces-capture-more-pirates-1.475674>.


Expatica. "French Forces Rescue Hhostages Held by Pirates." Russian Expatriate Community, Information and News Resources. Expatica Moscow, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 02 Mar. 2011. <http://www.expatica.ru/news/russian-news/French-forces-rescue-hostages-held-by-Somali-pirates_46128.html?ppager=0>.


Harding, Andrew. "BBC News - Postcard from Somali Pirate Capital." BBC News - Home. British Broadcasting Corporation, 16 June 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8103585.stm>.


ICC International Maritime Bureau. "Old Threats and New Threats: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism." SouthChinaSea.org. EuroCrime, Dec. 2006. Web. <http://www.southchinasea.org/docs/Galletti-Piracy,%20Old%20and%20New%20Threats.pdf>.


Jaffe, Greg. "Deaths of Four Americans Reflect Increasing Violence of Somali Piracy." The Washington Post. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022207307.html>.


Jones, David. "Rachel Chandler: My Rape Terror at Hands of Somali Pirates." Daily Mail Online. 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1250361/Rachel-Chandler-My-rape-terror-hands-Somali-pirates.html>.


Kongdan, Oh. "Pirates Bringing Us Together." Korean Times. 07 Mar. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2011/03/137_82645.html>.


Moon, Bob. "Pirate Attacks on the Rise and Expected to Get Worse." American Public Media. Public Radio, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/03/am-pirate-attacks-on-the-rise-and-expected-to-get-worse/>.


Patch, Commander John. "The Overstated Threat." U.S. Naval Institute. Dec. 2008. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2008-12/overstated-threat>.


Self, Alex. "The Self Shelf: Preventing Piracy Through a Projection of Power." The Brandeis Hoot Newspaper. 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://thebrandeishoot.com/articles/9775>.


Spilman, Richard. "Losing the War on Piracy – A Lack of Political Will." Old Salt Blog. 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.oldsaltblog.com/2011/02/18/losing-the-war-on-piracy-a-lack-of-political-will/>.


United Press International. "Pirates 'Threaten Global Oil Supplies'" UPI.com. United Press International, 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Resource-Wars/2011/02/16/Pirates-threaten-global-oil-supplies/UPI-67751297874975/>.


Wellersdick, Paul. "Somali Pirate Murders Hit Home with Ridge Couple." Paradise Post. 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.paradisepost.com/news/ci_17472203>.


Wordsworth, Araminta. "Captured Danes Attract Little Sympathy Over Pirate Plight." Full Comment.com. National Post, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2011. <http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/03/03/captured-danes-attract-little-sympathy-over-pirate-plight/>.


[1] ICC International Maritime Bureau. "Old Threats and New Threats: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism." SouthChinaSea.org. EuroCrime, Dec. 2006. Web. <http://www.southchinasea.org/docs/Galletti-Piracy,%20Old%20and%20New%20Threats.pdf>.

[2] Kongdan, Oh. "Pirates Bringing Us Together." Korean Times. 07 Mar. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2011/03/137_82645.html>.

[3] Ibid

[4] ICC International Maritime Bureau. "Old Threats and New Threats: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism." SouthChinaSea.org. EuroCrime, Dec. 2006. Web. <http://www.southchinasea.org/docs/Galletti-Piracy,%20Old%20and%20New%20Threats.pdf>.

[5] "European Naval Forces Capture More Pirates - Africa." IOL | Breaking News | South Africa News | World News | Sport | Business | Entertainment | IOL.co.za. Web. 28 Feb. 2011. <http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/european-naval-forces-capture-more-pirates-1.475674>.

[6] Charbonneau, Louis. "Somalia Piracy Crackdown Shows Signs of Success." Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com. 29 May 2009. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/05/29/us-somalia-piracy-un-idUSTRE54S6H420090529>.

[7] Expatica. "French Forces Rescue Hhostages Held by Pirates." Russian Expatriate Community, Information and News Resources. Expatica Moscow, 16 Sept. 2008. Web. 02 Mar. 2011. <http://www.expatica.ru/news/russian-news/French-forces-rescue-hostages-held-by-Somali-pirates_46128.html?ppager=0>.

[8] Ibid

[9] Wordsworth, Araminta. "Captured Danes Attract Little Sympathy Over Pirate Plight." Full Comment.com. National Post, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2011. <http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2011/03/03/captured-danes-attract-little-sympathy-over-pirate-plight/>.

[10] Self, Alex. "The Self Shelf: Preventing Piracy Through a Projection of Power." The Brandeis Hoot Newspaper. 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://thebrandeishoot.com/articles/9775>.

[11] United Press International. "Pirates 'Threaten Global Oil Supplies'" UPI.com. United Press International, 14 Feb. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Resource-Wars/2011/02/16/Pirates-threaten-global-oil-supplies/UPI-67751297874975/>.

[12] Ibid

[13] Jones, David. "Rachel Chandler: My Rape Terror at Hands of Somali Pirates." Daily Mail Online. 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1250361/Rachel-Chandler-My-rape-terror-hands-Somali-pirates.html>.

[14]

[15] "2009 Worldwide Piracy Figures Surpass 400." ICC Commercial Crime Services. 14 Jan. 2010. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.icc-ccs.org/news/385-2009-worldwide-piracy-figures-surpass-400>.

[16] Moon, Bob. "Pirate Attacks on the Rise and Expected to Get Worse." American Public Media. Public Radio, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/03/am-pirate-attacks-on-the-rise-and-expected-to-get-worse/>.

[17] Jaffe, Greg. "Deaths of Four Americans Reflect Increasing Violence of Somali Piracy." The Washington Post. 23 Feb. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/22/AR2011022207307.html>.

[18] Spilman, Richard. "Losing the War on Piracy – A Lack of Political Will." Old Salt Blog. 16 Feb. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2011. <http://www.oldsaltblog.com/2011/02/18/losing-the-war-on-piracy-a-lack-of-political-will/>.


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      Letsroll 5 years ago

      This piece of work should be made known to all Americans traveling in these areas. The UN should put this information out to all countries at risk. I would highly recommend shooting on site, before they even board. Private security is not enough to stop them.

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