Piracy on the High Seas – the Increasing Cost to World Shipping0
“Coalition warship, coalition warship, this is the motor vessel *Bee Vee two, Bee Vee two. A suspicious vessel is approaching us fast on our starboard side. Can you please investigate quickly? Over.” The panicky voice crackled from our VHF speaker and we listened with amazement as a possible piracy drama unfolded in our little bit of wide, blue ocean.
We had been on our way slowly on passage from Cochin in India to Salalah in Oman to rendezvous with 20 other small yachts to travel together in an unarmed convoy along the notorious “Pirate Alley” in the area between Yemen and Somalia. The “incident” we heard was less than 50 miles away in an area that no pirate incidents had ever been reported before. Fortunately for the captain, his crew, his ship and our nerves, the suspicious vessel turned out to be just a curious fishing boat well away from home, but the investigation had involved the use of a helicopter from a British warship over 200 miles away.
In almost exactly a year to that day and in almost exactly the same place the American yacht “Quest” was hijacked by Somali pirates and taken under gunpoint towards Somalia, a crime that was to lead to tragedy. The U.S. warship that was shadowing the pirates, created panic which led to the deaths of the Americans and several Somalis. A Danish yacht with a young family on board was taken a week later, with all seven on board, to date still kept hostage in a Somali village, with secret wrangling over the ransom being carried out by the Danish government, family and friends and the pirates themselves.
Small yachts are small fish in piracy terms, however. The real prize is a ship, especially one laden with fuel, weapons and its crew to be used as hostage bait. The International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre based in Kuala Lumpur estimates that there have been 211 piracy attempts world wide already in 2011, 139 of them alone in the offshore waters of Somalia, an area now extending over 1500 nautical miles to the shores of Pakistan and India in the North East, Kenya and Tanzania to the South and the Seychelles in the South East. Worse, 522 crew members off 26 ships are still held hostage on the Somali coast.
For Somali pirates, crime certainly seems to be paying off. The average ransom for a ship received by pirates in 2010 was $US 5.4 million, with a single ransom worth a whopping $9.5 million paid out in that year for a South Korean oil tanker. By contrast, in 2005 the average ransom was a mere $150000 and the numbers of ships attacked and successfully taken much fewer.
Piracy in Somalia is an unusual, almost inevitable consequence of current political, geographical and economic circumstances. The North East African poverty stricken nation has a huge coastline, much of it bordering one of the most important of the world’s shipping routes, where heavily laden but scantily crewed tankers ply the route from Asia and beyond to the ports of Europe through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Somalia has lacked an effective government for nearly 20 years and the resulting power vacuum has allowed penniless and powerless fishermen to side with warlords to wreak havoc on the high seas.
But Somalia is not the only source of marine piracy. The IMB reports that there are many other world piracy hotspots including the coasts of Nigeria, Venezuela, Bangladesh, certain parts of the vast Indonesian archipelago and that old pirates’ favourite, the Malacca Strait. The total cost of piracy to world shipping has been estimated to be between 7 and 12 billion dollars by One Earth Future, a global trade think tank.
On the bright side, concerted and vigilant action by the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand has virtually destroyed the piracy problem in the Malacca Strait and increasing economic opportunities in those South East Asian “tiger” nations has provided an alternative business avenue for unemployed pirates to pursue.
Just over a year ago we arrived safely in Aden after one of the most emotionally charged sea journeys of our lives in company with our little group, and continued into the Red Sea and on into the Mediterranean relieved to have survived. All of us who came through that year have read this year’s reports with horror and concern for those hundreds of seafarers still bound in captivity on the shores of Africa, hostage to an age old crime that should have been eradicated years ago.
* The boat name being used is fictitious
Tags: crew, Piracy, piracy shipping Red Sea Indian Ocean Somalia Sailing, pirates, Red Sea, Somalia