Where Have All The Pirates Gone?

As long as man has sailed the oceans, there have been pirates – men, and in rare instances women, who exploit maritime transit and commerce for financial gain by use of violence, intimidation and terror.  The earliest documented accounts of piracy come from ancient Greek tales of the “Sea Peoples”, unidentified seafaring raiders who attacked ships throughout the Aegean and Mediterranean during the 14th century BC.

Many will concede the term “pirate” evokes images of the so-called “Golden Age” of buccaneers, the days of Captain Kidd and Black Beard who were a scourge to colonists of the American Atlantic and the Caribbean 300 years ago.  Bashfully, most of us are also familiar with Disney’s famed amusement park ride and subsequent cinematic franchise.  But would you recognize a present-day pirate?

If you caught Tom Hanks’ 2013 critically-acclaimed film “Captain Phillips”, you should have an accurate idea of the modern-day piracy taking place in the busy shipping lanes off Eastern Africa.  Today’s pirates lack the fanciful air and mystique of the swashbucklers of yesteryear, but remain despicable opportunists who steal, kidnap and murder for profit.  Most pirate factions are headquartered in impoverished third-world areas, praying upon slow-moving ships that pass their shores.  Using speedboats, GPS and heavy weaponry, for decades these ruthless men have been able to wreak havoc upon the maritime shipping industry and related insurance markets.

But that tide has quietly shifted over the last 24 months.  Merchants and insurers have employed more rigorous safety measures and sufficient private security in the wake of significant losses.  U.S. and international navies are also providing more regular and regulated patrols over the affected areas.  Organized crime previously viewed piracy as low-risk, high-reward, but now the costs to African criminal organizations are much higher.  The infamous pirate groups of coastal Somalia, who commonly terrorize the Gulf of Aiden and the Indian Ocean, have in large been neutralized.  According to the U.S. State Department, there have been no successful hijackings of commercial vessels by Somali pirates in more than two years.  So where have all the pirates gone?  Many are in jail.  Over 1,400 pirates are being held by courts and prisons in 20 countries around the world.  But it is believed that most pirates are simply biding their time, waiting for new opportunities.

The oil industry operating off the west coast of Africa has newly become target to Nigerian pirates hijacking oil tankers and attacking commercial fleets traveling through the Gulf of Guinea.  Danger on the high seas has been successfully addressed in some areas, but the threat grows in others.  Terrorism and kidnapping risk experts have, as of late, indicated an imminent cause for alarm as international security firms are becoming more complacent with current contracts and recent successes.  Reports also show that funding and political support for governmental patrols is waning.  As a result, insiders believe that aggressive pirate operations will return to East African waters by the end of 2015.  The international insurance industry must continue to be cautious of and adapt to the hazards of the sea including the rudimentary, yet often effective actions of modern pirates.  As history has shown, the threat will always be present.

Please contact Petersen International for more information regarding the spectrum of insurances available to those who are potentially at risk in the corporate marine and private security industries.