10 Shocking Facts About Modern-Day Pirates

By Megan Jones

In April, when Somali pirates captured the MV Maersk Alabama and kidnapped the captain of the ship for four days, the news shocked many. While earlier reports of piracy may have made the news, they did not capture the public’s attention in the same way that this incident did. The fact is that piracy is not just a legend from days long past, but is a dangerous trend that is actually on the upswing and for the past few years. Read the following facts to discover what you might not know about modern-day pirates.

  1. Weapons used. Many modern pirates have heavy-duty firepower, including automatic weapons, mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades. Pirates are also often equipped with cell phones and other tech gadgets to keep in contact with organizers who feed them information about ships and their locations. Many pirates’ weapons are specialized to their geographic location, with the most dangerous usually being in the South China Sea and Somalia.
  2. Geographic occurrences. With the recent news about the pirate capture off Somalia, it may appear to some that modern pirates are isolated to this geographic area. While the political upheaval in Somalia does provide an ideal, lawless hideout for pirates, the fact is pirates are often found in many places around the globe. Some areas most frequented by pirates include the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the waters of Indonesia and Singapore.
  3. Financial loss. The estimated annual loss due to piracy worldwide is about $13 to $16 billion. Unfortunately, most carriers decide not to report piracy incidents due to the financial burden. When an incident of piracy is reported, ship owners experience insurance rates that can increase by as much as 30% as well as the daily loss incurred during an investigation that can often run about $1000 a day.
  4. Ties to government and organized crime. Many modern pirates have ties to the government and organized crime, such as the pirates in Somalia and the Far East, with some pirates in the South China Sea reportedly working under the protection of the Chinese government. Other pirates take advantage of a lack of government involvement, such as the pirates near Brazil, where there is no Coast Guard or its equivalent.
  5. Anchored ships vs. high seas kidnapping. Pirates boarding ships at sea and kidnapping the crew have been making the news but an older report suggests that 72% of pirate attacks occur on anchored ships where the pirates either steal the ships or take cargo and crew members’ belongings. Recent trends show that kidnapping the crew in order to get ransom money is on the rise, as pirates cannot only profit from the ransom but stolen goods as well.
  6. High ransom. When kidnapping is involved, ship owners sometimes must pay high ransom prices to help their kidnapped crew. Ransoms average around $120,000. Some owners will hire security organizations to escort their ships, at costs of around $120,000 per trip to avoid the high ransom payments, danger to their crew, and potential loss of the ship and its cargo.
  7. Frequency. Piracy is a frequent activity happening much more often than what makes the news. Take a look at the Live Piracy Report and the Live Piracy Map at the ICC Commercial Crime Services and you will see that reported piracy incidents are currently occurring at about 20-30 per month. While not all incidents result in kidnapping or theft, many do.
  8. Environmental pirates. Not all pirates use lethal weapons and are seeking riches. Some pirates, such as those in the group Sea Shepherd, are known to ram ships, throw rancid butter on their decks, or even sink ships in an attempt to disrupt their activities. Usually target ships are participating in whaling or fishing that harms other marine wildlife such as dolphins, seals, and sea turtles.
  9. Little deterrent. Due to the current legal situation, most pirates who are captured are merely questioned and released. Unfortunately, there are almost no laws against modern pirates. Local laws pertain specifically to citizens and may not apply to pirates, and finding witnesses and translators can be difficult once pirates are detained. Additionally, many countries do not want to take on the expense of imprisoning pirates, so they are often returned to their life of piracy–complete with few deterrents to slow them down.
  10. Help from London. London, the world headquarters of shipbroking and insurance, is also likely a hub for intelligence that is sent to Somali pirates. It is thought that at least one of the known pirate groups has "consultants" in London sending information to the pirates that include the layout of the ships, cargo, and routes. With this much information, the pirates have plenty of time and ability to carefully plan their attack so that the ships have little defense.

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