A Report on The Piracy Report
Most people are under the impression that pirates and piracy are things of the past, wiped out along with scurvy and whaling. But as anyone working in international shipping can tell you, piracy continues to thrive and has even adapted to modern technology.
The battle against piracy is no longer fought by doughty naval officers of Britain and Spain. In keeping with the times, the fight has been bureaucratized. Since 1992 the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center has been on the frontlines of modern piracy. From its base in Kuala Lumpur, the center issues daily warnings about piracy hotspots, works with governments in efforts to battle piracy throughout the world, and releases a weekly piracy report detailing the past week's attacks. The IMB's efforts seem to have been fairly successful: the number of pirate attacks fell from 329 in 2004 to 276 in 2005, the lowest recorded figure in six years. With a 24-hour staff and the support of an international cadre of shipping companies, the IMB is comfortable calling itself the "world's premier independent crime-fighting watchdog for international trade," and I challenge anyone to name a contender.
But the IMB is not one to rest on its laurels, and indeed it can't; the Bureau is quick to remind us that now is not the time to drop our guard. In January 2006, just as it was releasing its glowing 2005 report, the IMB also warned that Iraq was a new venue for piracy, particularly near the Basrah oil terminal and Umm Qasr. The Bureau is also on the frontlines of developments in modern anti-piracy technologies. Its website promotes such items as the ShipLoc (essentially LoJack for freighters) and the SecureShip, which offers the thrill of putting an electric fence around the perimeter of your vessel.
If you are, like me, a regular reader of the IMB's weekly piracy report, you know that things need not always be so hi-tech. The modern pirate may have added the rocket-propelled-grenade and automatic rifle to his artillery, but long knives and grappling hooks are still the most popular tools of the trade. Most attempted sackings come to an end not when someone gets briefly electrocuted, but when an alert crew turns the ship's fire hoses onto the would-be marauders.
Not all attacks can be fended off, and though the 2005 report lists no crewmembers killed following a pirate attack, at least 12 remain missing. Even worse, the IMB released a dire piracy report for the first quarter of 2006. Pirate attacks are up this year, from 56 in the same period last year to 61 now. There have been 63 crewmembers taken hostage, more than double the number last year, and 13 have been kidnapped for ransom. Two weeks ago a band of Portuguese-speaking seadogs boarded a ship 60 nautical miles from the coast of Guinea and took the cook hostage. The captain had no choice but to pay $3000 for his return. In another attack the same week, four Maoists and one female pirate took ten people hostage and blew up their vessel before being pursued by the police. Despicable their actions might be, but at least they're unprejudiced. You would never have seen communists and women among Blackbeard's crew.
The piracy report can be found at: http://www.icc-ccs.org/prc/piracyreport.php
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