On the High Seas a look at Modern Day Piracy

Piracy on the high seas has been a problem for the past several years. After a sharp increase, there is some indication of a small decline in the acts of piracy committed on the high seas. Even with a decline, it is still a serious problem that requires specialized law enforcement action and efforts to lead to deterring acts of piracy, which has led to loss of property, kidnappings and even murder.

Piracy increased prior to 2013

In the years leading up to 2013, acts of piracy on the high seas steadily increased. In the decade between 1993 and 2003, the incidents of piracy tripled, with at least 16 deaths and hundreds of actual and attempted attacks.

In 2008, in ‘Modern-Day Somali Pirates Increase Attacks,’ PBS reported that eight attacks had taken place in the week before their report alone. Somali piracy on the high seas had been increasing quite rapidly. Even after the PBS report, Somali pirates continued increasing their acts of piracy, such as their 2011 attack, where they took four Americans hostage and then killed them several days later. In 2012, Somali pirates claimed to have killed a Syrian hostage and wounded another over a ransom delay. The Somali pirates had been holding the captured ship for two years. NBC News quoted Somali pirates as saying the killing was “a message to the owners of the ship” who had not heeded their ransom demands.

In describing modern-day pirates, Captain Pottengal Mukundan, director of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, (IMB) is quoted in National Geographic as saying that “These are ruthless people who are heavily armed and prey on people that are weaker than them.”

Structure and strategy of modern-day pirates

In fairy tales and movies, pirates may be glamorized as being the swashbuckling type who is after gold and jewels. Modern-day pirates have some similarities to the olden-day pirates and those depicted in the media in that today’s pirates are also after loot- in the form of cash. They start out as being patient, at least to some degree. But whether that patience lasts for two days, or two years, as in the case of the Panamanian flagged cargo ship, owned by a United Arab Emirates company, that was captured off the Seychelles in 2010, may depend on structure of those participating in the piracy.

Some pirates may start out as seemingly well-organized with a plan, but it is easy to realize that plans related to piracy carried out on the high seas can quickly crumble. When U.S. naval forces boarded the ship after the four American hostages were killed, they discovered the bodies of two pirates who had been “dead for some time.” Questions arose as to whether there may have been disagreements among the pirates that may have led to the two pirates being killed.

While some pirates may seem highly organized, with well-thought out plans, others have been deemed copycats who just have guns and take ships and even yachts and fishing boats and the people on them hostage with no clear-cut plan.

Pirates do not just operate by trolling the high seas waiting on unsuspecting vessels and hostages. There is a network of land-based help to pirates. Financial organizations that help “bankroll their operations,” people who help by supplying weapons and even some military backing has allowed piracy to continue and thrive. With pirates armed with machine guns and a variety of high-powered weapons, smaller boats and even large vessels are little match for the heavily armed, loosely organized roving gangs of pirates.

Piracy on the high seas – 2013

Acts of piracy have shown some evidence of decline. Captain Mukundan stated that reduction in Somali attacks can be attributed to “international effort” taking place off the Horn of Africa.

But that does not mean that piracy will continue to decline. In fact, waters are still very dangerous. Global Security says in ‘Pirates’ that the Somali pirates really had no strategy or chain of command. This is viewed as a structure that is difficult to dismantle. The waters off Africa is still viewed as the most dangerous, worldwide.

Dismantling modern-day pirates

One of the reasons that piracy on the high seas may be starting to decline is the efforts taken to dismantle them. Besides the worldwide effort off the Horn of Africa, other measures have possibly been responsible for the actual decline and hopes to stop the pirates. Pottengal Mukundan said that “we need to deter them.” Sending clear signals to pirates that governments will not deal with them may help, but even when sending such messages, the safety of hostages must be considered. Ships from the various countries now engaging in efforts to deter and stop the pirates may be getting through. In 2010, as reported by ABC, Russian commandos sailed to a Russian tanker that had been seized by Somali pirates and staged a daring rescue of the 23 crew members on board. One Somali pirate was killed and 10 others taken into custody.

After a yacht was attacked and five people, including a child, were taken hostage by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, French rescuers attacked after a week. One hostage was killed, as were two pirates.

As action is taken to show that countries and vessel owners are not to be intimidated by pirates, perhaps the decline will continue. Some vessel owners just pay the demanded ransom in hopes that hostages and the vessels will be released.

Although delivering food and supplies to other countries may require travel across the high seas and an adventurous nature may take yacht owners and fishing boats into waters where they may not normally venture, safety must be viewed as the ultimate goal. Modern day piracy on the high seas may be showing a slight decline, but there will most likely not be a lax attitude towards the issue. High alert is still necessary in all areas where piracy is known to occur or has the potential to occur in the future on the high seas.