A New Age of Piracy

8 April 2009 By Alex Scott

Recent headlines around the world have carried accounts of high seas piracy that seems to be reaching epidemic proportions. On Wednesday, April 8, Reuters reported that a U.S.-flagged container ship with 20 American crew aboard had been seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. It was the sixth ship seized in the last week off Somalia. Remarkably, the agency updated its report a few hours later with the news that the crew had re-taken the vessel, although the captain is currently being held hostage in a lifeboat.

Anita Powell of the Associated Press wrote, “Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for eighteen years.” The region is part of a busy shipping lane with close proximity to the Suez Canal. To protect shipping interests, several governments have sent military vessels to patrol the area. However, Powell reported that analysts say an increase in foreign warships has done little more than to force the pirates “to shift their operations east into the Indian Ocean, towards the Seychelles.”

Earlier in the month, the British navy was alerted that a British Registry luxury dive yacht had been taken by pirates near the Seychelles, one of two yachts seized in the region by pirates within the past month. There were seven crew on board the dive yacht at the time. According to the AP report, the boat was likely taken to Harardhere, which is a pirate stronghold north of Mogadishu, and the British navy informed the vessel’s owners to expect it and its crew to be held for three months.

The international naval presence seems to have done little to discourage what Agence France Presse described as, “the worst spate of hijackings in months.” The AFP reported earlier this month that a French-flagged yacht with at least four crew aboard had been hijacked. Previously, it was predominantly cargo ships that were hijacked for ransom, but a sudden spike in recreational vessel captures has caught the world’s (and certainly our) attention.

According to the AFP, pirate groups have ventured farther out to sea to target vulnerable vessels away from the heavily patrolled corridors. At the latest count, there are “at least seventeen…ships currently in pirate hands…and more than two hundred and fifty…hostages.” These modern-day pirates have reached the point of rivaling the crimes committed during piracy’s so-called “Golden Age.”

Acts of piracy have not been confined to the African coast. Last month, the BBC reported that while anchored near Koh Dong, Thailand, a British yachtsman had his throat cut and was thrown overboard by Burmese pirates who were later captured and charged with kidnap, assault, theft and murder.

As reports of piracy continue to rise, will it affect where you go and how you run your watch schedule? Please tell us what you think that sudden spike in piracy may mean to the yachting community below.