In some ways, our culture celebrates the life of the pirate. We look at the past history of piracy and tell tales of ships being conquered, societies being started, and fun being had. Just look at the Pirates of the Caribbean series of movies from Disney as evidence of this. When it comes to the Somali pirates, however, romanticism quickly turns to fear.
In the highest risk areas of pirate activity, Somali pirates attached ships just 5 times in all of 2013.
Somali Pirates Facts
These figures are dramatically down from previous years. In March 2012, Somali pirates attacked ships 7 times and disrupted shipping patterns another 8 times. No ships were pirated in the high risk area in 2013 compared to the 6 ships that were pirated in 2012. Is this a reflection of less overall activity? Or is it a reflection of shipping patterns changing to avoid the high risk piracy areas?
- There were 264 pirate attacks in 2013, a 40% drop since piracy’s peak in 2011.
- 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012, and 237 in 2011.
- Only two vessels were actually hijacked off Somalia in 2013.
- 1 Day. That’s the amount of time that Somali pirates held hijacked ships in 2013.
- Some of the attacks that have occurred in international waters from Somali pirates may not even qualify as an act of piracy under international law.
- The 2013 Somali piracy figures are the lowest numbers that have been recorded since 2006 when 10 Somali attacks were registered.
- In Q1-Q3 2014, there were only 3 documented attacks off of Somalia and there weren’t any ships boarded. In comparison, there were 72 pirate attacks off of Indonesia and 59 of those ships were boarded.
- Teams of armed guards were called into action just 4 times in 2013 to defend against pirate attacks.
- In Somali waters, at least 149 crew members were held hostage in 2011, and over 100 pirates were killed.
One of the reasons that Somali pirates have seen less activity is the fact that the oil rich shipping areas of West Africa are seeing more activity. Combined with the points of emphasis that the IMB has placed on stopping Somali pirates, it has become more difficult for ships to be hijacked today. This hasn’t completely stopped activities in the region, but it has certainly caused them to slow down dramatically. Although care still needs to be taken by any ship that comes near Somali waters, the risks of piracy have been dramatically reduced since 2011 and appear to be on pace to potentially be 100% eliminated.
2011 Was a Banner Year For Somali Pirates
- Somali piracy cost between $6.6 – $6.9 billion in 2011.
- The shipping industry bore over 80% of the total piracy costs, or between $5.3 and $5.5 billion.
- In 2011, 31 ransoms were paid to Somali pirates, totaling around $160 million.
- The average ransom was approximately $5 million, a $1 million increase over the year before.
- The total cost of shipping increased by up to $680 million in 2011 for ships that followed different routes to avoid the high piracy areas.
- No ship has been successfully hijacked that was traveling at 18 knots or faster.
- In 2011, 1,118 seafarers were held hostage and 24 died.
- Over 30 countries contributed military forces, equipment, and vessels to counter Somali piracy activities in 2011.
Somali pirates have been active for several years, but it was 2011 where the points of emphasis to stop them became a global concern. Piracy brought in more revenue in 2011 over 2010 even though there were fewer overall kidnappings because of the higher ransom amounts that were granted. With seafarers being killed during piracy events and billions being lost, is it any wonder why over 30 nations dedicated funds and forces to stop the piracy problem? These resources may have made Somali piracy less common than before, but it hasn’t completely stopped them. It has also helped to shift piracy actions into other waters as well.
Could Somali Pirates Return After 2014?
- The EU and NATO navy mandates to stop Somali pirates ended at the end of 2014.
- One theory is that the pirates have spent the past few months stock-taking, preparing to increase their attacks in the near future as their inventory of hostages is reduced.
- The business model of Somali pirates may have shifted toward hostage taking and kidnapping on land instead of sea.
- 60% of ships that approach high piracy areas now carried armed guards in an effort to repel an attack.
- At the height of Somali pirate activity, this group accounted for 1 out of every 4 pirate attacks that occurred annually.
- Many Somali attacks have traditionally been during the day, on open waters and high seas, while using sophisticated weapons, which is completely the opposite of the tactics of most other pirates.
- Outside of Somalia, the average number of pirates that are involved in an attack is just 4.
- 2-5am. That’s when the average pirate attacks if they aren’t stationed in Somalia.
The future of the Somali pirates depends on what countries decide to do to defend shipping lanes and what ships decide to do to defend themselves. There are several defensive tactics that have been built into ships, such as razor wire, water cannons, and citadels that have allowed for crew members to repel attacks, even if they don’t have armed guards on board. If these tactics continue to work, then the success rates of the Somali pirates will continue to stay at minimal levels. If the pirates can find ways around these defenses, however, and they adapt to more common forms of piracy that occur at night on stationary boats, then they might just start to see higher levels of success like they did in 2011.