Yo Ho Ho! Maritime Piracy Then and Now

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/14/2009 11:14:00 AM
A recent post by our friends over at IPE@UNC jogged my memory about the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre. (As you've probably figured out by now, I am a repository of useless information that sometimes becomes relevant ;-) Anyway--where was I--it maintains comprehensive mapped data about incidents relating to maritime piracy going back to 2005 all over the world. The IMB is the authority when it comes to reporting such incidents. For those interested in the dark side of trade transportation, it certainly makes for fascinating reading. Please visit and see for yourselves as you can click on each indicator for more info. For now, let me just show you the difference between two maps four years apart. First, here's one dating from the end of 2005. Red indicators map actual attacks while yellow ones indicate attempted attacks and blue ones are reports of suspicious vessels:

And here is the latest one for 2009:

A number of things are immediately striking. First, the number of incidences this year is high given that we are not even a quarter into 2009. The rescue of Captain Philips certainly hasn't deterred Somali pirates from mounting more attempts in recent days. Second, incidences in the historically piracy prone Malacca Straits have gone down significantly in recent years. This is attributable to coordinated efforts by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore to patrol the area with serious intent [1, 2]. While the Gulf of Aden has been similarly prone to piracy, the ravages of civil war still ongoing in Somalia have certainly accelerated these sorts of happenings. Even if times are difficult, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore are still fully functional states while the state of Somalia is, basically, a figment of the political imagination. Nevertheless, I am certain the Southeast Asians can lend help on how they've dealth with their piracy problem.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Given the desperation of Somalia, it is no surprise that ever more daring raids are being mounted. Initially, I'd have advocated a tougher line of the pirates--shoot to thrill, shoot to kill--but then you have to remember that there are literally hundreds of sailors being held hostage unfortunate enough not to be white American sailors. What would be their fate if they started issuing such orders? It's a bleak situation all around.

4/21 UPDATE: An FT op-ed by a Chatham House researcher reiterates many points raised above.