Modern Piracy – No One Say Arrr

Photo of  Ships: James Willamor

Photo Credit: James Willamor

I was all set to write a doom and gloom report on ocean freight for my first Global Dashboard post.  After all, fuel is getting more expensive, and piracy is getting worse. This can’t bode well for the industry that transports at least 90% of the world’s stuff.

But then I actually started reading the 2008 International Maritime Bureau report on piracy. The report contains the definitive compilation of raw piracy data. It contains annual statistics on all reported incidents of piracy, as well as brief narrative descriptions of each attack. (The report is not available online; you have to email and ask for it. Another excellent source of piracy information is the Maritime Security Center.)

It turns out piracy is not actually getting worse. There were 445 pirate attacks in 2003, and 293 in 2008. Piracy is changing locations, and methods, but it’s not necessarily getting worse. So instead of my discussion of pirates, merchant marines, fuel costs, and food aid, I’ll just give you some highlights from the piracy report. It might not have supported my thesis, but it was a fascinating read.

1.       Piracy has changed locations from Asia to Africa. In 2003, there were 121 attacks off the coasts of Indonesia, and 28 in the straits of Malacca – that’s a third of all attacks. In 2008, there were 28 off Indonesia and just two in Malacca.  In 2003, there were 58 pirate attacks off Bangladesh, compared to 12 in 2008. Attacks off African coasts went from 93 in 2003 to 189 in 2008.

2.       Anchoring seems to be the most dangerous thing a ship can do. Most actual pirate attacks occurred when a ship was at anchor. Most attempted attacks occurred while a ship was in motion.

3.        Piracy actually seems to be less successful now than it was in 2003. In 2003, 311 ships were boarded by pirates. In 2008, it was 151. Far more crew members were taken hostage in 2008 – more than double the 2003 number – but fewer were killed. (on a related note – 68 of the pirate attacks in 2008 were armed only with knives – that certainly smacks of desperation)

4.       Some things are getting worse. In 2008, ships were hijacked further from land than ever before, and the largest ship ever hijacked was taken.

And here is my favorite description of a pirate attack: “Twelve pirates, in a speedboat, armed with guns, swords, and iron bars, approached the ship underway. Master raised alarm, crew directed fire hoses, and SSAS activated. Pirates boarded the ship and stole crew personal belongings, ship’s cash, and property. After 50 minutes, they left the ship. No injuries to crew except minor bruises.” Swords and iron bars. There is something so tragically inept about that.