Piracy Today

“Modern piracy has nothing in common with the pirates you see in the movies or read about in novels...”. This is the opening statement to John C. Payne’s paper entitled Piracy Today. Payne is a professional mariner who has spent thirty-five years on merchant ships and offshore oil industry vessels. He has also been on ships that were attacked by pirates and robbers in his long career.
The latter is a thorough analysis of the phenomenon of piracy: its history, evolution, the politics that help cause it, the means by which it might be put in check and a detailed report on the current situation. Payne takes us with him as he navigates these pirate-infested waters, of which he says: “Piracy ebbs and flows like the tide. It is a fluid, moving from one place to the next as social, political and economic unrest throws nations into chaos and creates an environment where piracy can flourish”.
As daily news reports will confirm, the most dangerous waters today are the ones surrounding the Horn of Africa, off the coast of Somalia. However, reports from the
Piracy Reporting Centre demonstrate that South-East Asia is also doing its part to keep its age-old tradition of piracy alive.
Courtesy of its publisher Sheridan House, here then is a substantial excerpt from a book dedicated precisely to piracy in Asia. It is interesting not only from a current affairs perspective; the information it contains also represents an opportunity to understand the history and culture surrounding the events occurring in that area.

With these excerpts, we inaugurate a new section of Bassifondi, a “Stories” section dedicated to narrative and reportage.

Prior to the rise of piracy in Somali waters and the Gulf of Aden, piracy in Asia was a major and longstanding problem. The hot zones were the Malacca Straits off Indonesia and in the South China Sea. The Malacca Straits are a narrow waterway about 550 miles in length and are the busiest sea route in the world, linking Europe to the major Asian exporting countries of Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Korea, and other emerging Asian economies.Approximately 50,000 ships pass through it each year, or roughly 600 per day. The strait carries 25 percent of world commerce and around half the world’s oil, or roughly eleven million barrels of oil per day! The thousands of nearby islands and many rivers that empty in to the straits create an ideal place for pirates to hide.
The Malacca Straits were once home to the infamous Bugis pirates, who came from South Sulawesi. The word bogeyman (Bugisman) derives from the Bugis. Evidently, British mothersin Singapore used to frighten mischievous children into behaving correctly by saying, “Watch out or the bogeyman will get you!” The orang laut pirates also operated in the area, along with the Malay and Sea Dayak pirates from Borneo. in July 2009, a German treasure hunter and diver recovered around $ 12 million from the sunken pirate ship
Forbes off the Borneo coast. The ship sank in 1806. The booty totaled about 1.5 tons of silver coins, porcelain, gold jewelry, and many other items.
The piracy problem in the Malacca Straits created quite a fuss, which isn’t surprising given the vital importance of these waters. As the attacks ramped up in recent years, the governments of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia took decisive action, sending naval vessels and aircraft to aggressively patrol the area. Thailand also joined the patrol program, and provided cover for the northern part of the straits and out into the Andaman Sea. The coordinated air and sea patrols significantly reduced the number of pirate attacks, most notably near Aceh, in Indonesia. The tsunami that devastated the area in December 2004 also reduced the number of pirate attacks, killing many pirates and destroying their boats.
The waters around the Philippines in the South China Sea have always been a traditional haven for pirates. However, as with the Malacca Straits, increased air and sea patrol has markedly decreased the number of pirate attacks...
The most notorious areas in the Asian region are said to be the ports, islands, and anchorages off Indonesia, India, and Vietnam. Between 1980 and 1985, the United Nations reported that pirates has raped an estimated 2,283 women and had kidnapped 592 people, preying upon the Vietnamese boat people that were headed south at that time.
In 2005, Lloyd’s of London listed the Malacca Straits as the world’s leading piracy hot zone, whic resulted in the levying of large insurance premiums amounting to one percent of the value of any cargo transiting the straits. Obviously, the move fanned controversy and anger among shipping companies. Patrols were increased in 2006 as attacks soared both in the Malacca Straits and near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. At this time, the pirates were also becoming more sophisticated and arming themselves with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. in August 2006, following a marked decrease in the number of pirate attacks, Lloyd’s removed the region from its war-risk insurance category...
However, there are fears in the region that an increase in pirate activity is possible due to the global economic crisis. It was stated that joint counter-piracy operations would continue between Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. During the 1997 economic crisis piracy spiraled within the straits.
By the end of June 2009, matters began to change, While any incidents that did occur generally involved robbing ships at anchor, there was a slight increase in incidents that occurred when ships were under way in the Malacca Straitsand in the South China Sea. The theft of cash and personal property in these attacks shifted to somewhat more of an emphasis on stealing ship’s store and equipment. Attacks on tugs started to increase, and this was pronounced in Vietnamese waters, in particular at the anchorages of Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau. The level of violence also increased, with hostages being taken.

From Piracy Today: Fighting Villainy on the High Seas by John C. Payne. Copyright © 2010 by John C. Payne. Reprinted with permission of Sheridan House, Inc.