Maritime piracy has existed for centuries. In fact, there have been pirate gangs attacking ships probably ever since maritime commerce began.
There is evidence that piracy goes back as far as the Greek and Roman civilizations. Throughout the centuries, there have been some periods that have been particularly conducive to maritime piracy. The Golden Age of piracy lasted between the mid-18th century to the late 19th century. Pirates, in those days, raided a vessel for pretty much the same reasons that they do now – for the loot. Holding hostages captive for ransom was also widespread.
Efforts against maritime piracy have taken on a renewed urgency over the past few years. Beginning from 2007, hundreds of ships have been attacked, and crewmembers taken hostage. These attacks have occurred everywhere, but have been especially more prominent off the Horn of Africa and the Somali coastline, as well as the Straits of Malacca.
Modern Pirate Attacks
The biggest difference between these modern attacks and those of past centuries, is in the sophistication of their arms. No longer is the pirate a sloshed, limping wreck, with a parrot on his shoulder and a cutlass. Modern pirates have highly sophisticated weapons like rocket launchers that they use to attack a vessel. These launchers can cause extensive damage to the ship, making it easier for the pirates to board a vessel.
Another major difference is the fact that pirates these days are more likely to attack in smaller numbers in a small-sized motorboat, than on a huge pirate ship.
Global Piracy Hotspots
The most piracy prone areas in the world today are:
Most reported pirate attacks involve armed Somali gangs. One particular gang was responsible for the attack on the US flagged Maersk Alabama. The volatile economic and social and situation in Somalia has contributed to the festering of this problem.
Straits of Malacca
This is the epicenter of piracy in the eastern hemisphere. Pirate attacks in the Straits of Malacca have lost newspaper headline coverage to their Somalian counterparts, but vessels passing through these waters continue to be at high risk.
Western Coastline of Africa
This includes the coastlines of Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.
Attacks in this region have been sparse and barely reported, but the coastlines of Venezuela and Colombia have seen quite a few pirate attacks.
The maritime lawyers at Schechter McElwee Shaffer & Harris, LLP have represented crewmembers of vessels involved in pirate attacks. We are currently involved in representing crewmembers of the Maersk Alabama, which was attacked in April 2009. If you have been on a vessel that was attacked by these pirate gangs,contact a maritime attorney at Schechter McElwee Shaffer and Harris for a free consultation about your case.