Until recently, piracy has been relatively unheard of in contemporary news media. The practice, however, has garnered international prominence in recent years, especially the Somali piracy activities off of the coast of Africa. In response, an international coalition has been formed to fend off pirates along the Somali coast. The coalition has enjoyed high levels of success, and piracy there has been significantly assuaged. Nevertheless, the practice has since spread to other major sea routes around the world, from South East Asia and the Mediterranean, to West Africa and Central America. Such piracy poses real threats to maritime travel, and policing massive swaths of open ocean has proven quite difficult. Policing the high seas requires a considerable input of resources, both monetarily and in terms of equipment. In addition, such maritime security efforts cannot realize full success unless there is cooperation at the international level.
Key Areas of Maritime Piracy
The general indication has been that piracy tends to thrive in what are known as ‘choke points’. For instance, the Panama Canal, a water bridge between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, has attracted significant numbers of pirates. In 2014 alone, there were forty-four reported incidences of piracy in the area. This canal acts as an important transit point for goods passing between the Pacific Ocean on its west and the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, and Atlantic Ocean to the east. Without this canal, such goods would be much less competitive on the world market, because they would need to be shipped around the continent of South America, or by air or land travel, where large shipments may be less logistically feasible.
Modern pirates tend to attack cargo ships and fishing vessels, which have commodities readily sellable on the black market, and therefore rarely direct their attention towards cruise ships. Smaller pirate gangs, who do not have the resources to seize the cargo being transported, will instead often times board a ship to steal substantial amounts of the cash ships carry for payroll and port fees, and a recent trend has been more frequent kidnappings of crewmembers to be exchanged for ransom money.
Another driving force feeding the surge in piracy globally has been instability on the mainland. For instance, there have been twenty pirate attacks off the Liberian coast. Liberia, located in West Africa, has had a tumultuous existence. The country has not had a practically functioning government for over a decade or more, and the effects of this instability on the social and economic welfare of the Liberian people has been quite bad. When the prevalence of poverty here is combined with its adjacency to a major sea route and lack of effective governance, this creates a perfect recipe for piracy along the Liberian coast.
Combating Modern Pirates
International anti-piracy efforts have, however, been effective in bringing the number of total piracy incidents down from a peak of nearly five hundred attacks in 2010 to around half of that by 2014. Hopefully, this trend will prove to be sustainable over the long-term. Piracy must be treated like any other crime and, like the efforts to decrease crime in general, ending piracy on the high seas will involve improving the socioeconomic situations of people globally, especially in coastal nations that are hotbeds for piracy. These efforts need to be particularly intensified in South East Asia, which has recorded almost three quarters of all pirate attacks. For countries on the west coast of Africa, establishing stable governments will likely be just as critical to combatting piracy as heavy policing of the coasts there.
Ships today are increasingly employing defensive mechanisms against piracy, such as razor wire, electric fences, high-pressure water hoses, and even such hi-tech creations as ‘sound guns’. This new technology is from BAE Systems, and is a non-lethal laser cannon that can be used against moving targets more than a mile away which will daze potential pirates.
Piracy poses an especially unique and serious threat to the global economy, as most international trade takes place via sea transport. As a result, there is a need for a solid international strategy to deal with this scourge. To do so, international cooperation needs to go beyond simply arresting and prosecuting pirates, and look into the underlying causes of poverty that may turn many individuals to a life of maritime crime. These include poor governance, corruption, and lack of education that perpetuates cyclical poverty. Unless these problems are solved, piracy is unlikely to be abated upon the high seas.
Modern Day Pirate Attacks By Country
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