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Piracy: The Biggest Maritime Snag

Image credit :- BBC NEWS

Any act of criminal violence or robbery at sea is termed as Piracy. Ship or boat-borne attackers with the primary aim of stealing goods and valuable items form the basis of piracy. These attackers who attack the merchant vessels are in general terms called pirates. Well, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word pirate, I bet it would remind you of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies of the image of a forty-year-old man with a long beard, an eye-patch, a tricorn hat and one hand with a hook. Well, this is the most common perception for people like us who grew up watching cartoons about pirates like Captain Hook. Well in the real world they are not a single bit like their cartoonish counterparts, in reality they are very dangerous and you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near them. Their sole purpose is to rob ships which pass through their territories. Piracy is as old as the sea itself; it exists parallel to the existence of maritime transport and trade. In the deep waters of Europe, Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, the Persian Gulf, Madagascar, the Canary Islands, North America and the Caribbean Sea, piracy has spread.

History of Piracy

Piracy started out as far more illustrious a feature of British Imperial policy, as early as the 16th century, English ships carried letters of marque entitling them to attack loot sink or capture ships of all enemy nations like France, Holland, Portugal and Spain. For such piracy was economic warfare but later after being given recognition as privateers they had allegiance to nothing but their own purses and bellies. Most of the pirates were people who were poor, runaways from their plantation contracts, felons and many-faced capital punishment. Initially piracy was more about survival than profit, but with the increase in trade and number of ships in the sea pirates saw it as an opportunity to make profit. Women faced discrimination here also, they were not allowed to become pirates, they were believed to be wreaked havoc and were unfavorable to the pirates. So, the women who wanted to become pirates had to pose as men in order to join the sea thieves.

Evolution of Piracy

Earlier piracy was a way of survival but it evolved to become a job for criminals, dreadful murderers and thieves. This evolution was a result of changes in economy and technology. Earlier pirates used different kinds of scopes and binoculars to keep an eye on their territorial waters, but now with the evolution of technology they have radars which help them in tracking the location of the incoming ships. Now pirates have advanced weapons and ammunition. The items that the pirates used to steal have also evolved with time and economic changes. Now pirates target ships with goods of high commercial value such as oil, drugs, alcohol, expensive clothing and even antique items. They have also worked their way around superstitions involving women, now some pirate gangs use these ‘delicate’ women to infiltrate the ship’s crew and gather information about the arrival and departure of the ship. Nowadays piracy has become an extension to terrorism. Pirates now not only attack and rob the ship but also hold the ship and the crew as hostage and demand ransom. They can keep them hostage for days until the ship owners or even foreign embassies not fulfill their requirements. In this way they put pressure on the governments of countries to meet their demand. They now have advanced weaponry and tactical technology which makes it difficult for ReCAAP (Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia) and other anti-piracy organizations that are working to curb piracy. Modern day pirates are a manifestation of growing capitalism, illiteracy and lack of job opportunities. They have knowledge of latest technology and weaponry which makes them capable of causing global terror and wreaking havoc on ground. These pirates with the help of desktops, radars and other hardware gain access to systems on board the ships and gain useful information. Due to this Maritime Cybersecurity has become a global issue.

#Fun Fact: Each pirate ship had its own set of rules and code, this included the distribution of chores, division of loot and it was compulsory for all to follow.

What steps can be taken to curb piracy?

Eliminating piracy can be difficult, but we can take a number of measures to reduce its impact on maritime logistics.


Strict laws requiring public punishment need to be enacted and enforced against piracy. The Arab and African countries collaborate in maritime security responses to piracy and armed robbery under a soft law proposed by The International Maritime Organization i.e., Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCOC). The Shared Awareness and Deconfliction Mechanism (SHADE) is an informal forum for states and countries set up in 2008 to collaborate on counter piracy measures off the Horn of Africa. These new laws or amended laws do not actually guarantee to end piracy but they do help in ensuring that the educated and aware people remain out of this activity.

Safe Navigation

Pirates usually operate in their own territories, there are navigation systems which share pirate data with different sources and identify with high risk of piracy. They can map a route by bypassing those areas with potential risk like avoiding storms. Systems such as Marine Digital FOS present on ships not only predict and signal danger but also offer various other options for route of the vessel and it is up to the captain and managers in the company to choose the right solution the route planner has to offer.

Inbuilt Radars

Ships with inbuilt radar systems are considered as an asset in piracy prone areas. It is a pretty expensive alternative but can be very useful in preventing attacks. Radars alert the ship’s captain of any impending attack which helps the captain to take necessary actions required to fight and defeat pirate ship.

Satellite Warning

Satellites and GPS can be used to track nearby pirate ships and prevent attacks. This is an expensive alternative similar to built-in radars but with cooperation between countries, this can be used to combat marine piracy.

Self Defense

When under attack the ship’s crew should be able to fight or resist the pirates. This can be done only when the crew is well trained and focused on conducting anti-piracy exercises. Strategies and plans must be prepared by the crew in order to ward off the pirates when under attack.

Ship Bodyguard

In earlier days, to avoid invasion from pirates several ships would sail together in such a formation that it became difficult to attack any of them as if one of the ships get invaded all the other can come to its aid. This similar concept is applied here but rather than being normal cargo ships, these bodyguard ships hold the nations naval forces. A cargo ship or a tanker is sent into the waters along with several other vessels for protection. In the case of an attack these guard ships deal with the pirates whereas the real tanker continues its journey.

Sting Operations

Sting operations can be a tedious task but in the long run they are the most complete way to counter and deter piracy. With proper financial support and planning the entire pirate net can be exposed.

Image Credit : Sailorstaan

Piracy has been and will be a problem in the future as well. Various steps are taken to curb piracy but still it is a long journey to completely vanish piracy.

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