Piracy in the 21st century

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Suspected pirates assemble on the deck of a dhow near waters off of western Malaysia, January 2006.

Piracy in the 21st century has taken place in a number of waters around the world, including the Gulf of Guinea, Strait of Malacca, Indian Ocean, and Falcon Lake.


Falcon Lake

US Coast Guard on patrol on Falcon Lake.

Piracy on Falcon Lake involves crime at the border between the United States and Mexico on Falcon Lake. The lake is a 60-mile (97 km) long reservoir constructed in 1954 and is a known drug smuggling route.[1]

A turf war between rival drug cartels for control of the lake began in March 2010 and has led to a series of armed robberies and shooting incidents. All of the attacks were credited to the Los Zetas cartel and occurred primarily on the Mexican side of the reservoir but within sight of the Texas coast. The so-called pirates operate "fleets" of small boats designed to seize fisherman and smuggle drugs.[2][3]

While the events have been referred to colloquially as piracy, all the waters of Falcon Lake are considered either US or Mexican territorial waters and therefore are not technically piracy under Article 101 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.[4]

Gulf of Guinea

Incidences of pipeline vandalism by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, 2002–11.

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea affects a number of countries in West Africa as well as the wider international community. By 2011, it had become an issue of global concern.[5][6] Pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are often part of heavily armed criminal enterprises, who employ violent methods to steal oil cargo.[7] In 2012, the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program reported that the number of vessels attacks by West African pirates had reached a world high, with 966 seafarers attacked during the year.[8]

Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has evolved over the first decade of the century. For some time, smaller ships shuttling employees and materials belonging to the oil companies with any involvement in oil exploration had been at risk in Nigeria. Over time, pirates became more aggressive and better armed.[6] As of 2014, pirate attacks in West Africa mainly occur in territorial waters, terminals and harbours rather than in the high seas. This incident pattern has hindered intervention by international naval forces. Pirates in the region operate a well-funded criminal industry, which includes established supply networks. They are often part of heavily armed and sophisticated criminal enterprises, who increasingly use motherships to launch their attacks. The local pirates' overall aim is to steal oil cargo. As such, they do not attach much importance to holding crew members and non-oil cargo and vessels for ransom. Additionally, pirates in the Gulf of Guinea are especially noted for their violent modus operandi, which frequently involves the kidnapping, torture and shooting of crewmen. The increasingly violent methods used by these groups is believed to be part of a conscious "business model" adopted by them, in which violence and intimidation plays a major role.[7]

By 2010, 45 and by 2011 64 incidents were reported to the UN International Maritime Organization.[5] However, many events go unreported. Piracy acts interfere with the legitimate trading interests of the affected countries that include Benin, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. As an example, trade of Benin's major port, the Port of Cotonou, was reported in 2012 to have dropped by 70 percent.[6] The cost of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea due to stolen goods, security, and insurance has been estimated to be about $2 billion.[5] According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Gulf of Guinea had by mid-November 2013 maintained a steady level of around 100 attempted hijackings in the year, a close second behind Southeast Asia.[9]

Indian Ocean

Extent of pirate attacks on shipping vessels in the Indian Ocean between 2005 and 2010.

Piracy in the Indian Ocean has been a threat to international shipping since the second phase of the civil war in Somalia in the early 21st century.[10] Since 2005, many international organizations have expressed concern over the rise in acts of piracy.[11][12] Piracy impeded the delivery of shipments and increased shipping expenses, costing an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade according to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).[13] According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), a veritable industry of profiteers also arose around the piracy. Insurance companies significantly increased their profits from the pirate attacks as insurance companies hiked rate premiums in response.[14]

Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition task force, took on the role of fighting the piracy by establishing a Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) within the Gulf of Aden.[15] By September 2012, the heyday of piracy in the Indian Ocean was reportedly over.[16] According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only one ship attacked in the third quarter compared to thirty-six during the same period in 2011.[17] By December 2013, the US Office of Naval Intelligence reported that only 9 vessels had been attacked during the year by the pirates, with zero successful hijackings.[18] Control Risks attributed this 90% decline in pirate activity from the corresponding period in 2012 to the adoption of best management practices by vessel owners and crews, armed private security onboard ships, a significant naval presence, and the development of onshore security forces.[19]

Strait of Malacca

The Strait of Malacca has been a major area of pirate activity.

Pirates in the Strait of Malacca near Indonesia are normally armed with guns, knives, or machetes. Many reports on attacks could have gone unreported because the companies are scared of the pirates attacking them more often because the company told the authorities. The pirates in this area also attack ships during the night. If vessels sound an alarm, the pirates usually leave without confronting the crew.[20] Pirates in the Singapore Straits attack at night, while ships are underway or anchored.[20]

According to the Control Risks Group, pirate attacks in the Strait of Malacca had by mid-November 2013 reached a world high, surpassing those in the Gulf of Guinea.[9]

Notable raids

Image Flag (owner) Name (class) Crew (cargo) Status Date of attack Coordinates
Date of release Ransom demanded
 Bangladesh Dilruba
Attacked February 2001 unknown
n/a n/a
Boarded off Patharghata. In a gun fight leaving one crew member wounded, the pirates stole supplies worth $139,373.
 Panama Lingfield
Attacked March 7, 2001 unknown
n/a n/a
Attacked near Bintan, Indonesia and boarded by eight pirates who, after tying up and blindfolding the ship's three senior officers, stole $11,000 from the ship's safe.
 Panama Jasper
Attacked March 9, 2001 unknown
n/a n/a
Looted of $11,000 off the coast of Kosichang, Thailand by what was suspected to be members of a Thailand organized crime organization.
 Indonesia Inabukwa
Attacked March 15, 2001 unknown
(2 weeks later) n/a
Boarded off the coast of Malaysia and, after marooning the crew on a nearby uninhabited island, the pirates escaped with the ship's cargo of tin ingots and pepper valued at $2,170,000. The ship was recovered by Filipino authorities two weeks later, following the arrest of the pirates.
 Panama Marine Universal
Attacked May 2001 unknown
n/a n/a
Boarded by four pirates while at an anchorage in Lagos Harbor, Nigeria. Armed with long knives, they took one sailor hostage, and later threw him overboard.
 Thailand unknown
(Commercial Fishing Boat)
Hijacked 2010 unknown
n/a n/a
The attack took place closer to India; however, the pirates took the boats and fisherman back to Somalia. The pirates held them for ransom until they received what they had asked for.
 Italy unknown
(Cruise Ship)
Attacked 2009 unknown
n/a n/a
About 500 miles off the coast of Somalia, pirates tried to attack an Italian cruise ship carrying nearly 1,500 people in 2009. An Israeli security team had been contracted to protect the cruise liner. Security personnel returned fire when the pirates started firing at the ship. The presence of a security team caused the pirates to turn around and abandon the attack.
 United States unknown
(Sail Boat)
Hijacked 2011 unknown
n/a n/a
In 2011 Somali pirates killed four American hostages. The pirates had hijacked a sail boat from the Arabian Sea and taken the people aboard hostage, a retired couple from California. When the US Navy got too close, the pirates panicked and shot the hostages. The Navy spokesperson said they did not understand why the hostages would be killed, when the pirates' motive is to hold hostages for ransom.

See also


  1. "Conspiracy theories linger in Falcon Lake Mexican 'pirates' shooting", The Christian Science Monitor<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. Drug Wars in Tamaulipas: Cartels vs. Zetas vs. Military, Mexi data<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  3. "Mexican pirates attack Texas fishermen on Falcon Lake, which straddles border", The Washington Post, May 29, 2010<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  4. "SECTION 4. CONTIGUOUS ZONE, Article 33". UNCLOS PART VII – GENERAL PROVISIONS. United Nations. Retrieved 2014-11-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Baldauf, Scott (2012-02-28). "Next pirate hot spot: the Gulf of Guinea". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2012-02-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "UN says piracy off Africa's west coast is increasing, becoming more violent". The Washington Post. Associated Press. 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2012-02-29.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Insight: Piracy - Gulf of Guinea". Skuld. Retrieved 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Cowell, Alan (18 June 2013). "West African Piracy Exceeds Somali Attacks, Report Says". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 "RiskMap 2014 Report". Control Risks Group. Retrieved 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Sanayo. "Piracy in Somali Waters: Rising attacks impede delivery of humanitarian assistance". UN Chronicle. United Nations Department of Public Information, Outreach, Division.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Piracy: orchestrating the response". International Maritime Organization.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Hijackings cut aid access to south Somalia, lives at risk". World Food Programme.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Anna, Bowden. "The Economic Cost of Somali Piracy 2011" (PDF). Oceans Beyond Piracy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The Advantage of Piracy". German-foreign-policy.com. Retrieved 17 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Commander, Combined Maritime Forces Public Affairs (29 September 2008). "Combined Task Force 150 Thwarts Criminal Activities". US Africa Command. Retrieved 17 November 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Abdi Guled, Jason Straziuso (25 September 2012). "AP IMPACT: Party seems over for Somali pirates". AP. Retrieved 3 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Alaric Nightingale, Michelle Wiese Bockmann (22 October 2012). "Somalia Piracy Falls to Six-Year Low as Guards Defend Ships". Bloomberg News. Retrieved 25 October 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Yanofsky, David (27 December 2013). "Somali piracy was reduced to zero this year". Quartz. Retrieved 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Somali piracy is down 90 per cent from last year". The Journal. 15 December 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. 20.0 20.1 Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships; ICC International Maritime Bureau; January 1–December 31, 2013; retrieved 4-11-2014.