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Pirates remain a threat to global supply chains

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Today, pirates are the stuff of fun and fiction more than they are seen as dangers of the high seas. In fact, mention the word “pirate,” and the image that will come to most people’s mind is probably something like this:

Or even this:

But actual modern-day pirates – and, yes, they really still exist – aren’t nearly so much fun. In fact, they’re a re-emerging threat to ships that travel certain international shipping routes, and hence to a potentially large number of global supply chains.

Pirate hijacking of an Indian cargo ship

Case in point: an Indian cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates in March 2017 after the ship had departed from Dubai. Somali security forces eventually were able to retake control of the ship, but in the raid, only two of the ten crew members were rescued.

According to Abdulahi Ahmed Ali, district commissioner of Hobyo, a well-known Somalian pirate hub, the pirates had been holding the ship off the Yemeni coast since March 31, the day it was captured. Negotiations for the crew’s freedom quickly commenced, but the talks eventually broke down, prompting local security forces to confront the pirates directly.

Unfortunately, the rescue effort was only partly successful. The pirates were able to abandon their ship and reach shore in the firefight that ensued, taking with them eight hostage crew members.

A Pirate Resurgence

The once emerging threat of Somali pirates had tapered off for several years, but in the last month alone, pirates have captured three ships off the coast of Somalia. Experts believe that ship crews may have begun lowering their guard because of the falloff in hijacking incidents in recent years.

Attacks by Somali pirates first became a serious problem in 2005, and the attacks reached their peak in January 2011, when pirates captured 26 boats and held 736 people hostage, causing mayhem and disruption along numerous global shipping lanes and leading to significant economic losses.

After an international naval task force resolved that particular crisis, attacks on commercial ships largely ended for a time, although fishing boats were occasionally attacked. But in March of this year, the situation changed dramatically, as pirates captured Aris 13, an oil tanker, and took its crew of eight Sri Lankan nationals hostage – the first such major incident since 2012.