Pirates and Piracy in the 21st Century
In the twenty-first century, piracy and pirates are still a reality in many areas of the world. Even with the stretch and scope of modern military technology, piracy occurs at a variety of levels globally. It may be a vulnerable family yacht or small cruise ship, or a cargo ship if the pirates possess sufficient weapons to threaten its crew. The instability of local governments creates a safe haven for these pirates, due to civil war or chaos. The area of the Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia has recently gained the international community’s attention, with the increasing attacks on ships passing through the region to the Suez Canal. There is no central governing authority in Somalia itself, which provides a fertile ground for a pirate refuge.
Pirates are said to operate fairly sophisticated operations, using technology such as global positioning systems and satellite phones. Getting tips from informants stationed in the Gulf of Aden, many pirates operate from mother ships, which direct operations, sending off high-speed motor boats to stop vessels as they travel. Pirates are known to use powerful weapons, threatening crews of ships that have no vested interest in sacrificing their lives for the cargo on board. (Crews generally earn an hourly wage.) The pirates board ships using grappling hooks, ladders, and ropes, and begin the process of ransom negotiations for both the individuals and cargo. Most shipping companies have found it more economically feasible to pay the ransom for the ship and crew, rather than risk confrontations with these pirates by arming their crews or hiring mercenary protection. It is reported that $80 million in ransom was paid out in 2008.
As a result of increased activity, though, nations have begun to take stronger action in the region, deploying naval ships and quick response special units to deal with the growing crisis. In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution that allowed authorities to pursue Somali pirates on land as well as sea, an expansion of earlier powers. Additionally, the Chinese government initiated a military operation against Somali pirates in 2008.
In the spring of 2009, the rescue of the American cargo ship, the MV Maersk Alabama, caught world attention. The vessel was recovered, but its captain was kidnapped by four Somali pirates, and forced an international incident that was ended when US Navy Seals rescued the captain, killed three of the pirates and took a fourth into custody. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre has reported that incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia in 2009 have increased twofold, with 114 attempted attacks as of May 2009 and 29 successful hijackings. (2008 numbers totaled 111 attempted attacks and forty-two successful hijackings.)
Other areas of concern in the early twenty-first century included Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca, a stretch of water that lies between the Malaysian peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In 2006, the Strait of Malacca had the highest number of attacks in the world behind Indonesia. But combined efforts from Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia have reduced the attacks in the Strait, with coordinated sea and air surveillance, along with political and economic stability in troubled areas of Indonesia.