Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Piracy Update

The captain on the fast ferry I was working on recently was an avid sailor and sailboat owner himself, so we were admiring different boats out for a sail on one particular late summer day. "That's something I don't do much anymore," he said, pointing to a boat flying a skull-and-crossbones flag from it's rigging.

"The pirate flag?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "With all that's happened the last couple of years it's just not as 'cool' as it used to be."

In 2009, there were 111 attempted seizures of vessel off the coast of Somalia, 42 of them successful including the famous Maersk Alabama seizure. In 2010, there were 217 attacks, 49 successful. So far this year, there have been 24 successful hijackings in 194 incidents. There are currently 15 vessels and 277 hostages in the hands of Somali pirates.

A close look at those numbers show that the pirates are less successful than they were just two years ago. Only 12-percent of attacks this year so far have been successful, compared with 49-percent in 2009. 

"Piracy...has become an industry one could say, spawning commercial businesses," British maritime lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla recently told the Indian news site Mid-Day. "There are now law firms specialising in piracy issues, insurance firms and even security firms, with war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, all with commercial avenues arising because of piracy." With piracy costing shippers, and thus their customers, between $7 and &12 billion a year, there is plenty of incentive for these new ventures in piracy prevention.

New anti-piracy measure range from very low tech to very high tech. One company offers a razor-wire system that can be put up and taken down by the ship's crew in less than a day, and that costs $30,000 or less. High tech solutions include on-board "safe rooms" with direct links to shore-based response centers, all independent of the vessel's power supply.

The Asian Shippers Council recently called for the pirates to be classified as terrorists, which would allow for more aggressive anti-piracy efforts by some countries. The Russian Navy has been particularly aggressive, as in the video above when they seize a pirate vessel, rescue the Russian mariners taken prisoner, then blow up the offending vessel (they did not handcuff the pirates to the vessel first, as initial reports suggested). The Netherlands this summer began a comprehensive anti-piracy effort including armed guards on ships, increased money laundering enforcement, and even building more prisons for Somalia. The United States just last week tried two pirates accused of killing four yacht crew members in February, both pirates were sentenced to life in prison. Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization is working to facilitate the arming of the merchant ship crews themselves

The UK's Channel 4 reported on a rescue of a seized vessel by special forces; the statistics about the rate of piracy off Somalia can be found in the report here.

The complete Mid-Day article about Sarosh Zaiwalla can be found here.

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