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Piracy on the Seas: Believe It or Not, It Still Exists and May be Surging Again!

These days when we hear about piracy we think of software, computers, and the Internet. Maybe we also think about the piracy of songs and DVDs and the battles their respective industries have been waging to end it. But this article is about the old-fashioned pirates, those who travel the open seas, attack unsuspecting vessels and make off with "treasures" or members of the crew.

Just this month there have been two reported pirate attacks in the Malacca Strait, which is bordered by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In the first attack, 35 pirates, armed with machine guns and rocket launchers, seized a gas tanker.

Pirate Flag

While today's pirates may not wear gold hoop earrings and eye patches and fly flags with the skull-and-crossbones logo, they're just as dangerous as their predecessors.

"The pirates attacked the ship as it was heading towards Belawan and ordered it to sail to Dumai. During the journey to Dumai the captain and chief engineer were kidnapped and taken off the ship ... The hijackers are negotiating with the ship's owners for their release," said Noel Choong, regional manager of the Piracy Reporting Centre of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

In the second incident, pirates attacked a Japanese tugboat and kidnapped three members of the crew, including the captain and chief engineer.

Who, and Where, are These Modern-Day Pirates?

Modern-day pirates, though not likely to carry names like Blackbeard or Captain Hook nor wear eye patches and big gold hoop earrings, are after surprisingly similar "treasures" as the pirates of yesteryear. The Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur, operated by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), defines piracy as:

"An act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act ... This definition thus covers actual or attempted attacks whether the ship is berthed, at anchor or at sea. Petty thefts are excluded, unless the thieves are armed."

Thus, anyone completing or attempting the above crimes is labeled a "pirate." Piracy is not only a concern in far-off regions of the world. "It looks like they (pirates) are becoming very daring and they are moving away from the normal coastal attacks towards the open sea ... ," Choong said. The problem is so prevalent that the IMB puts out a Weekly Piracy Report to ships traveling in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Ocean regions.

Most Risky Waters for Piracy

The following regions are among the most prone to piracy and the IMB has put out a warning to ships traveling or anchoring in these areas:

SE Asia and the Indian Sub Continent
Bangladesh: Chittagong
India: Chennai, Kandla
Indonesia: Anambas/Natuna Island, Balikpapan, Belawan, Dumai, Gaspar/Bar/Leplia Str, Jakarta (Tg.Priok), Pulau Laut, Vicinity of Bintan Island
Malacca straits
Singapore Straits

Africa and Red Sea
Gulf of Aden / Southern Red Sea
Somalian waters
West Africa: Abidjan, Conakry, Dakar, Douala, Freetown, Lagos, Tema, Warri

South and Central America and the Caribbean waters
Brazil: Rio Grande
Haiti : Port au Prince
Dominican republic: Rio Haina
Jamaica: Kingston
Peru: Callao

And the problem seems to be getting worse. Says Captain Mukundun, director of the ICC International Maritime Bureau, "The incidents of hijackings have increased dramatically since 2000. These are serious and violent attacks, committed by organized crime groups. Crewmembers are often abducted or injured and both ship and cargo worth millions of dollars are often stolen."

The IMB reported that pirate attacks have tripled in the last decade, with 103 reported attacks in the first three months of 2003, alone. That's the same number of attacks recorded for the entire year in 1993. And 2004 was one of the most lethal years ever recorded since the IMB started collecting piracy statistics in 1990-325 piracy acts and 30 murders at sea were reported in 2004. Some other pirate facts:

  • Indonesian waters are the world's most dangerous when it comes to pirates.

  • 145 people at sea were killed, assaulted, kidnapped or reported missing as a result of piracy in the first three months of 2003.

  • Bulk carriers are the vessels pirates are most likely to attack.

Pirate attacks in Asia have gone down in recent months after the deadly tsunami that hit the region. Experts think many of the pirates may have been killed or lost their boats, but governments expect the piracy to come back at full-speed, or even greater than before, in the coming months.

Fighting Pirates With Technology

Bulk Carrier

Bulk carriers like this one are the vessels most often attacked by modern-day pirates.

Many of the large transport ships and oil tankers now use satellite-tracking devices that alert ship owners and authorities should the vessel veer off course. Cruise ships are a tough target not only because they're so large, but also because governments provide plenty of protection for the money-making vessels when they're in port.

Another recent anti-pirate innovation is what's known as Secure-Ship, which is essentially a 9,000-volt electric fence that surrounds an entire ship. Should a pirate attempt to board, they receive a strong, but not deadly, shock while a shipboard alarm sounds and floodlights turn on. The IMB recommends that all ship owners install this device to ward off intruders.

Want more on modern-day piracy? Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas is freelance journalist John Burnett's firsthand account of piracy as he retells his experiences of being attacked-pirates, Burnett says, "are often gangs of poverty-stricken young men (or sometimes women) employed by warlords, organized crime syndicates and terrorists"-and reveals his intense investigations into this little-known sub-culture.

Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High SeasDangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas: This thrilling, firsthand account of modern-day piracy will wet any landlubber's whistle. Read more now!

Anyone who's fascinated by pirates-and the notion that they're still around today-won't want to miss this one; it's considered the definitive work on modern-day piracy.

Recommended Reading

Tsunamis are a Distinct Possibility for Both Coasts of the U.S.


MSNBC March 16, 2005

Yahoo News March 14, 2005

IMB Weekly Piracy Report March 8-14, 2005

International Chamber of Commerce: Pirate Attacks Modern Pirates

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