One of the oldest criminal professions has made a deadly comeback in recent
years. The rate of maritime piracy has skyrocketed to an alarming rate.
Three centuries after pirates such as Blackbeard terrorized shipping and domestic security; new bands of modern marauders have begun to terrorize the high seas both for profit and for terrorist objectives. Modern day maritime pirates operate beyond the reach of the law in key locations which can affect the global security of nations around the world as well as the world economy.
What is Maritime Piracy?: Maritime piracy, according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of 1982, consists of any criminal acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship that is directed on the high seas against another ship, aircraft, or against persons or property on board a ship. Piracy can also be committed against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State.
Through modern technology, many of the tradional hazards of shipping have been neutralized. Ships today are bigger, safer, faster and all but impervious to most storms. International waters have been chartered and well traveled, sateillite communications keep ships locations. However the threat of piracy still remains and is growing.
The ocean based on its vast size allows a large area in which pirates can be kings of their domain. Supertankers to commercial cruislines, yachts, and personal crafts face daily attacks. If such attacks occurred on land on a daily basis, the public outcry would be deeafening.
In particular, merchant shipping, the lowest hanging fruit of world commerce is at the mercy of the wild frontier of the sea which offers almost no defenses.
Companies generally fail to disclose to let the public know of a ship being attacked by pirates. If pirates rob a merchant vessel, steal $1,000,000 in cargo, and kill the entire crew, it is likely to be secret that the public will never hear about. Merchant ships that aren’t attacked successfully but fear an additional pirate attack are forced to reroute, use more fuel, face increased insurance costs, more money on security, which in turns lead to higher costs for goods to be purchased by consumers. Add to the equation that most merchant/transport ships which are the size of Chrysler building in NY often have no armed guards or lack any security little security. An insider working on the ship can also diminish any security protocols that are in place on a merchant ship.
FACT: Only 10% of Maritime Piracy cases are ever reported. Therefore an annual report of over 300 attacks could reflect over 3000 attacks at sea.
At Sea You Are Alone:
Smaller developing nations can’t defend against pirate attacks occurring within their jurisdiciton. Local authorities in areas such as Malaysia and Indonesia are not equipped with the technology and resources to combat maritime pirates. While Singapore and Malaysia have increased their forces, Indonesia in particular needs help in curtailing pirate activities. Pirates in constrast are armed to the teeth with the latest and best weaponry and equipment.
FACT: Indonesia has a navy with 170 vessels, 1/3 are not operable and cannot be used to combat maritime piracy.
In terms of international law, the issue of jursidciton and response also plays a major factor. When a ship is attacked, the confusion arises as to who is responsible for fighting pirates. The country of origin of the vessel, the nationality of the owners of the vessel, and the nationality of the nearby waters leads to stagnant response when ships come under attack. In addition, even if pirates are caught, the result is likely to yield little results. It has taken over 30 years for neighborhood countries at risk from pirates to agree to allow one another entry to soverign waters to chase pirates. Therefore if Malaysia catches pirates that commited attacks in Indonesia, it is questionable if they will be extradited or held accountable for their activities.
FACT: Only 1% of maritime pirates ever get caught
The Rise of Piracy
With the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the end of the Cold War, pirates are no longer in check. Both the U.S. and Russian Navies which used to control the high seas have reduced their naval forces by 50% leading to the current rise of modern pirates.
Pirate Centers and Critical Resources
The following is a list of major pirate centers:
In terms of resources, it must be understood that major choke points in terms of world geography have allowed pirates to influence the security and economics of world powers. Pirate attacks occurr frequently in the Strait of Malacca which is the shortest route from Southeast Asia to Europe, the Gulf of Hormuz, Gibraltar, Panama Canal and the Gulf of Suez. At any given moment there are somee five hundred vessels pushing through these areas. Parts of these areas are no more than half a mile from one shore to another. In the Strait of Malacca in particular, ¼ of all commercial sea trade and ½ of oil shipments move through this area. The gulf of Hormuz has over 25% of the world’s oil moving through its waters. A major pirate attack in such areas while not reported can affect the availability of resources to foreign nations.
FACT: Piracy and hijackings of ships costs world shipping and industry around $16-$25 billion a year
Methods of Attack:
With the latest weaponry and best equipment, pirates from local villages attack. Most pirate attacks occur at night between 1-6 a.m. while the crew is asleep. The pirates are usually organized along gang lines named after the leader such as the Peter Hong gang. Generally pirates attack from behind a ship or may surround a ship with numerous smaller pirate boats in a sophsticated military attack. They take over the bridge, then seek out the captain. Within minutes of boarding a ship, pirates go after safe, the crew, and cargo. At night, barefoot pirates hoist themselves over the sides of yachts, demanding tv, stereo and clothes. They climb over the sides of oil tankers, holding guards at knifepoint and demand a safe be opened. Torture is also used to achieve results.
Pirates with automatic weapons begin by overtaking a crew, usually killing them as they hijack a ship, then they quickly repaint and rename the vessel. They sell and unload the haul, which could be worth millions of dollars of oil, rice, sugar and then con unsuspecting shippers at the new ports into giving them new cargoes that never make it where they are intended to go. By the time the shipper has realized there is a problem, the “phantom” ship has been renamed, repainted, and has new registration papers. Hundreds of ships dissappeaar this way ever year. According to Andrew Linington of the UK Maritime Union “The number of attacks on ships is staggering, by the end of the 1990s it was about five hundred attacks a year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Conventional wisdom holds that the real number of attacks are at least four times more than what’s reported.”
INTEL: Al Qaeda is believed to own at least twenty “phantom” ships
Technology allows merchant ships to be at risk via information sharing. Pirates armed with palm pilots and labtops can obtain the manifest of a ship, know the cargo and destimination, and track a ship with GPS imagery and tracking capabilities. In terms of hideouts, pirates can hide out on the island of their choice with a small craft. Indonesia alone has over 17,000 islands in which pirates can hide. With a small craft, a local villager in a key pirate area can rob a ship one time and make more money and profit then they would ever make in their entire lifetime.
It is not uncommon for pirates to pose as foreign military or law enforcement groups that get close and then attack. A merchant ship captain may think the ship radioing them with proper authortization codes is not a threat. It is also important to understand that maritime pirates change operations to fit the environment.
As in the case of the Barbary pirates, kidnapping has also now become a profitable business venture for pirates. Corporations are now paying on average $50,000 for the return of the Captain and Chief Engineer of a merchant vessel. Pirate steal paperwork from the business so they have contact information to send kidnapping demands. Negotiations between businesses and pirates generally take 3-4 days. Once business pay, people are released 2-3 days later. Most of the kidnappings are not reported to local authorities. Buinesses, shipping companies in particula do not like to admit any kidnapping ever took place.
The Affluent at Risk:
International travel by sea for the wealthy members of society has become commonplace.
One of the most common purchases for the affluent are yachts and custom luxury seagoing vessels. New boat sales were up over 20% for 2004 and custom boat building is up over 14%. These ocean going vessels provide an escape for the affluent from the pressures of society. They provide quiet remote places where business can be discussed in a peaceful setting outside of the business office. However, the calmness and remoteness of the vast sea creates an illusion of safety.
New statistics indicate that the number of pirate attacks worldwide has tripled in the past decade. For the affluent, the potential for the entire crew and passengers aboard a ship to be killed or held for ransom by organized crime syndicates or local pirate gangs is high. Affluent sea goers who survive a pirate attack and report it to the authorities of the nearest jurisdiction may discover that law enforcement personnel, officials and port workers are involved in the attack and distribution of wealth. Grossly underpaid maritime security personnel have also begun to enter the business; many are complicit, and some are actively involved in attacks. For the affluent, it is recommended that private security personnel familiar with sea going attacks by pirates and terrorists be on board to protect the crew and passengers of a yacht or custom luxury ship.
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