Somalia Piracy Today Part I

Somalia Piracy Today Part I

The news reports about the many hijackings of ships off the coast of Somalia in the autumn of 2008 have seriously drawn attention to pirates and the danger they pose to ship traffic. Sometimes attacks on several ships were reported in one day. During the last three months of last year, Somali pirates carried out as many as 48 such attacks. It could seem as if something many previously only knew from history, was suddenly now back – or that at least there was a sharp increase in the incidence of piracy. However, both are wrong.

  • Has there been more piracy?
  • Where does this business take place?
  • What drives the pirates?

Many of the cases of piracy that took place outside Somalia, a country located in Africa according to, and the way they were carried out, were startling. This includes the hijacking of the 300,000 tonne tanker Sirius Star, the largest ship hijacked by pirates to date. But the annual number of piracy – or attempts at it – did not come any higher in 2008 than it has consistently been earlier in this decade. At the beginning of the decade, the number was even higher than now.

Today, however, cases of piracy are much more frequently reported in the news media than just a few years ago. Perhaps it has something to do with changes in the waters in which piracy most often takes place in and in the way it is carried out.

2: Piracy – nothing new

In earlier times, piracy took place in most waters around the world where goods and people were transported to some extent. From time immemorial, for a long time a lot of piracy was practiced in the Mediterranean. Also in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea there were for a time pirates. In Asian waters, pirates operated for a long time. Perhaps best known is the piracy in Caribbean waters in the 16th and 18th centuries.

However, the activities of North African pirates at about the same time were more extensive. The pirates took ships and cargo, as well as often crews and passengers as slaves. In the 18th century, North African pirates also demanded protection money from European shipping countries that wanted to avoid piracy of their vessels. It gave the pirates great income.

Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, however, piracy was largely brought to an end in European and North American waters. But in other waters, pirates have continued to operate until now. This applies not only to Asian, but also African and South American waters. The map shows how the cases of piracy were distributed in different waters around the world in 2005.

3: Where do pirates operate today?

The graph from the latest annual survey of the United Nations International Maritime Organization, IMO (International Maritime Organization), shows how piracy has developed from 1984 to 2007 – both globally and regionally. We see that the business through the last half of the 1990s increased sharply to a new and significantly higher level. It has mostly stayed there ever since.

In addition to the curve for the total number of cases, the curves for five separate waters are particularly marked for the years after 1994. The number of cases of piracy or attempts at it since 1995 and until recently has been clearly higher in the South China Sea than in any other waters. If the increased number of the adjacent Straits of Malacca is taken into account, piracy in these Southeast Asian waters accounted for almost or more than half of all cases in the world between 2000 and 2005.

For this reason, many came to view piracy as a problem primarily related to Southeast Asian waters. On the other hand, these are among the world’s most important for shipping. All shipping traffic between ports further west, for example in Europe and the Middle East, and ports in China, Japan and Korea, must pass through these waters. The increase in piracy in Southeast Asia was therefore seen as a serious problem for international shipping. On the other hand, the fact that cases of piracy in the Indian Ocean also increased significantly had less to say. Most of the cases there took place inside the Bay of Bengal, and this was considered more of a local problem.

Somalia Piracy 1