April 7, 2014: The piracy business has changed a lot since 2010, when it had reached levels of activity not seen in over a century. But over the next three years that all changed. By 2013 attacks on ships by Somali pirates had declined 95 percent from the 2010 peak. It’s been over two years since the Somali pirates captured a large commercial ship, and even smaller fishing ships and dhows (small local cargo ships of traditional construction) are harder for them to grab. The rapid collapse of the Somali pirates since 2010 was no accident. It was all a matter of organization, international cooperation and innovation. It all began back in 2009 when 80 seafaring nations formed (with the help of a UN resolution) the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. The most visible aspect of the Contact Group was the organization of an anti-piracy patrol off the Somali coast. This came to consist of over two dozen warships and several dozen manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as support from space satellites and major intelligence and police agencies.
Back in 2010 the Somali pirates got most of the publicity but they only carried out 44 percent of the attacks. What was newsworthy was that the Somalis accounted for 90 percent of the hijackings, and some 80 percent of the piracy was in and around the Indian Ocean. Some 44 percent of all attacks involved the pirates boarding the ships, while in 18 percent the pirates just fired on ships, without getting aboard. There are still pirates out there, but there are more into robbery than kidnapping.
Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and policed it. The pirates had no place to hide. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes. Note that what constitutes an act of piracy is often not clearly defined. What most people agree on is that piracy is non-state sanctioned use of force at sea or from the sea. This could include intercepting a speedboat to rob the passengers, but that’s usually just thought of as armed robbery. And something like the seizure of the Achille Lauro in 1985 is considered terrorism, rather than piracy. In the past, some marginal states have sanctioned piratical operations, like the Barbary States, but that is rare any more.
The trend, however, was definitely up for two decades, with the big increase coming in the last decade.
o 1991: About 120 known cases of real or attempted piracy
o 1994: over 200 cases
o 2000: 471 cases
o 2005: 359 cases
o 2010: over 400 cases
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