Piracy around the World: Somali Pirates

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Pirates are depicted in modern movies as fun-loving, rowdy, rule-breaking men. They are almost depicted as mythical creatures, purely fictional, as if they did not exist at all. However, that could not be further from the truth. Pirates popped up in history thousands of years ago, and it would seem that they are not done just yet. Although the days of English piracy and Blackbeard are gone, pirates have not disappeared. Piracy still exists around the world, and one of the most brutal examples today is the pirates of Somalia. Somali pirates are becoming a serious problem in American and international waters and are causing a deep economic impact on the world.

Modern Piracy around the World

Piracy, thanks to modern day films from the last decade, has been highly romanticized. However, the real bandits’ intentions could not be further from the truth. Pirates are not fictional characters from the films – it is actually a dangerous practice and hurts the world’s economy deeply. As Corey Flintoff of National Public Radio says, “as long as there have been ships, there have been pirates ready to plunder them.” These bandits of pirates come from areas where there is little security and there is more of a life in stealing to get by. According to Charlotte Sector’s ABC News article “Danger Adrift: Modern-Day Pirates Threaten More Than the High Seas,” between March and November 2005 there were 29 attacks off the coast of Somalia, with information found in the International Maritime Bureau. It includes one of the first attacks on a cruise ship in more than ten years. “Pirates attacked 205 ships in the first nine months of 2005 compared with 251 in the same period a year ago, according to the IMB’s Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships Report” (Flintoff). The problem, however, has been growing since the early 1990s, according to Jayant Abhyankar, deputy director of the IMB. Sector also notes that the attacks have declined, but the attacks overtime have caused several ‘hot spots’ around the coast of Somalia and other areas to deteriorate (Flintoff). These are just small parts of the world, but they are parts that have been so struck by piracy that they simply cannot continue to grow into a place with a strong community and economy.

One of these hotspots includes those around the coast of Indonesia. Sector writes that “Indonesian waters pose the greatest danger with 61 incidents in the first nine months of 2005 and a total of 93 attacks reported in 2004, according to the IMB. Hot spots around the world include the Malacca Straits (between Malaysia and the Indonesian island of Sumatra) followed by Nigeria, Bangladesh, Iraq and the northeastern coast of South America.” As well, there have not just been an increase in these pirate attacks, they have become increasingly violent. They are becoming more fatal for both the economies and communities, as well as the people involved. Pirates killed 30 crew members in 2004, up from 21 a year earlier (2003)” (Sector). Where security is lacking, the pirates are likely to find more of what they want: heavy ransoms and some very expensive treasure. Target areas are much like Somalia – they are ultimately ‘law less’ and there is less of a chance for these bands of pirates to be caught by maritime officers. Attacks from Somali pirates began to rise quickly in numbers in the early 1990s, and this timeline directly affected the start of these attacks.

In Stefan Lovgren’s “Modern Pirates Terrorize Seas With Guns and Grenades” for the National Geographic News, he writes about some very dangerous numbers about pirate attacks. He writes: “pirate attacks around the world tripled in the decade between 1993 and 2003. In 2003 alone there were 445 actual or attempted attacks in which 16 people were killed. In the first three months of 2006, there were 61 successful or attempted attacks, compared to 56 incidents in the same period last year. At least 63 people have been taken hostage this year—twice the number of hostages taken in the same period last year” (Lovgren). As well, Somali pirates are big players in the area that is hit the most by pirate attacks – the coasts of Indonesia and the surrounding area (Lovgren). Somalia, since the early 1990s, has produced pirates that are a serious danger to the world and its economy. These pirates are bandits that are absolutely desperate to earn money and to steal, although they have ended up keeping most of the money around for illegal activities, drugs, and to promote more piracy.

Somali Pirates

The Somali government fell in 1991, and the United States has since provided humanitarian assistance to the country. It has a very serious problem with drought, famine, and its refugees. According to the Bureau of African Affairs in 2013, the United States has tried to assist Somalia in the development of a “post-transitional national government.” and this strives to unify the country in the long run. “U.S. assistance also aims to focus on the more stable areas of Somaliland and the semi-autonomous state of Puntland… (they) work closely with other donor partners and international organizations to support social services and the development of an effective and representative security sector, including military, police, and justice sector, while supporting ongoing African Union peacekeeping efforts” (“U.S.”). There has been so much attempted to aid and help Somalia’s government pick itself up again, but as can be read throughout history, it is simply easiest to take such a dangerous trade as piracy and make that a primary, despite all of the illegal activity and ruin that it adds to a country’s outlook.

However, despite such aid, the fall has caused piracy in the area to increase dramatically. It is simply flourishing off the coast of this African country, despite the effort by international ships and officials to protect the shipping routes. The Somali pirates are attacking shipping lines between Africa and Asia. “What once seemed an archaic crime is back and putting a serious strain on the world’s purse strings… very little about this latest round of robbery on the high seas ought to surprise Americans, whose history is steeped in piracy” (Flintoff). According to Rachel Weiner’s Huffington Post article, “Rise of Modern-Day Pirates: Where They Come From, What They Want,” many of the population is very poor, and at least of half of the citizens have to rely on international food aid from other countries to feed themselves and their families (Flintoff). It is possible that many of these bandits feel as if they have no other choice, but regardless of the reason for this aggressive and destructive behavior, it is hurting the world around this country and affecting the economy.


Somalia seems to be perfectly placed for a dramatic piracy epidemic. As seen in the map below, Somalia is in range of both African and Asian trade routes, and recently their range has been growing. Somalia has a strategic position at what is called the Horn of Africa, and because of its poverty-ridden status, it is the key location for a pirate base of operations (Flintoff). They are in a perfect position in the Indian Ocean to take advantage of the large ships that are travelling around Asia and Africa. They are able to rest on the coast of their own territory and jump the ships that come within their vicinity. Simply, they are in a perfect spot to cause havoc around their area with pirate activities.

Economic Impact

Perhaps because of the fine location for a piracy ring, the world and United States economy has taken a tremendous hit because of modern piracy. According to the Business Insider article “Somali Pirates Are Hurting the World More Than We Realized,” “pirates hijacking ships off the Horn of Africa and Somalia from 2005 to 2012 garnered well over a quarter of a billion U.S. dollars in ransom and used the money for criminal activities worldwide.” This is a dangerous hit not only because of the money that has been taken and squandered (the government spends more on war costs), but because of the way that the money is being used by the pirates. These bandits are not taking this money back to their families so that they can live rich, more fulfilling lives. Somali pirates, according to National Public Radio, are engaging in human trafficking practices and funding their militias. They are also laundering money through the trade of a stimulant called khat (Flintoff). NPR also mentions that these “illegal activities… divert money from the legal economy that would otherwise promote economic development” (Flintoff). The money that is stolen only serves to promote more illegal activity and allows the pirates to continue a reign of terror and crime around the Somali coast.

According to the same article, the United States is not the only government losing money. They are costing the trade markets $18 million between 2005 and 2012 because they have had to increase security. International trading companies have had to take “measures to combat the problem, including steps to deal with illegal cross-border cash smuggling, anti-money laundering measures and mechanisms to monitor financial flows through the khat trade” (“Somali”). As well, ransoms have cost the world economy between $339 and $413 million during the same time period (“Somali”). The economic impact of these pirates’ illegal, reckless and dangerous behavior the world economy has been losing millions that could have gone to otherwise useful and educational causes.

Back according to the National Geographic article “Modern Pirates Terrorize Seas With Guns and Grenades,” the author states that the area around Somalia is something called a ‘law-enforcement vacuum.’ This means that many of these vicious attacks, through in international waters, take place outside of the jurisdiction of any one country or state. This fact makes it very difficult for one government to find and persecute these pirates for their crimes (Lovgren). “The problem has become so bad that IMB sends out daily signals to ships to steer at least 200 miles (322 kilometers) clear of the Somalian coast” (Lovgren). Trading ships have to go miles out of their way in order to avoid Somali pirates, because they usually attack those ships who are less than 20 km off of the Somali coast. (Lovgren). These precautions are troublesome because they interfere with a ship’s ability to carry out their job properly and within the intended time frame. This goes on to show the effect that Somali piracy has on globalization.


Globalization is, quite simply, “is commonly used as a shorthand way of describing the spread and connectedness of production, communication and technologies across the world” and “involves the diffusion of ideas, practices and technologies” (Doyle and Smith). From an international standpoint, all the world’s finances and trade companies are connected. Piracy is trafficked on the open sea, where these trade companies are transporting their goods. When these goods are stolen or ruined, the companies will lose out in a number of different ways. If they lose their entire shipment, they may lose their money completely. If this happens or if they come home with only parts of their shipments, the price of these products will rise and that will hurt the consumer and the country in which the consumer is buying this particular product.

“What happens in local neighbourhoods is increasingly influenced by the activities of people and systems operating many miles away. For example, movements in the world commodity and money markets can have a very significant impact upon people’s lives across the globe. People and systems are increasingly interdependent” (Doyle and Smith).

People in their communities and these bigger companies who lose to pirates are, as the article says, interdependent. The effects of piracy resound at different levels of the economic spectrum. The initial pain is felt at the international level. As well, they affect each country individually, and can go as far as affecting particular areas and communities in a country. In Somalia, men turned into bandits and every day thieves into international pirates. The piracy that erupted out of Somalia was started by those who were trampled by a very poor community with an economy that had been destroyed. They are one of the most dangerous groups of pirates in all this havoc, but tracing their history back tells the story of where piracy can take the world if it gets worse again, of it nothing is done about it.

Future of Piracy

In the past, the American government has learned to deal with the problems with piracy. This began in the early 19th century. This first attempt to combat against piracy occurred by hand of the American military at the start of the 1800s. “The first use of American military power abroad came in response to piracy — a demand for tribute from the so-called Barbary States of North Africa… a decisive battle of the First Barbary War, in 1805” (Flintoff). In that year, a small group of American Marines led a mercenary army on a 500 mile journey from Alexandria, Egypt, to capture the town of Derne, Lybia. It is said to be the first American military victory that took place on foreign soil. “That war didn't end the problem of Barbary piracy, and it wasn't until 1815 that the U.S. was finally able to stop paying tribute to keep its vessels unmolested in the Mediterranean” (Flintoff). This historical anecdote simply shows that the American government has done something about the piracy issue before and that they are capable of doing something again. It also shows that people, i.e. military, can stand up against the bandits – from Somalia and otherwise.

In the article “Somalia: As Somali piracy falls, questions over what to do with captured pirates” by Horseed Media, says that “data shows that piracy off of the Horn of Africa is at its lowest point since 2006” (“Somalia”). As well, as of November 2013, there have only been 11 hijackings reported off the coast of Somalia. The global number stands at 206, so the Somalian pirate attacks are now just a small percentage of total attacks. “Compared to a few years ago, where in April 2009 alone pirates hijacked 16 ships, this indicates significant progress” (“Somalia”). It is a small victory. There are still modern-day pirates out there and they still stand as a threat to the world’s economy and the safety of the ships participating in global trade. These effects are truly detrimental to everyone involved.

Fortunately there have been another a string of small victories for international and maritime piracy law enforcement regarding the arrest and detainment of Somali pirates. In2010 there were three incidents in where Somali pirates were caught and punished for their crimes. Five Somali men in the Netherlands were found guilty of piracy, but only received five year sentences in prison. “After they serve their jail time, they are to be returned to Somalia, although it is unlikely that this will happen because the Netherlands is prohibited from deporting people to countries deemed too dangerous” (“Somalia”). Another incident in 2010 occurred in Yemen and involved six Somali pirates. They were sentenced to death because they had been found guilty of killing two members of the oil crew that they had previously hijacked. As well, in the United States, five Somali men were convicted and sentenced to a lifetime in prison for piracy after they were found guilty of attack the U.S.S. Nicholas (“Somali”). These three instances may be only the tip of the iceberg, but it is clear that law enforcement around the world is cracking down on the problem of Somali piracy and things are being done to slowly fix this leak.

There are actually four reasons, according to a report on transnational crime in East Africa released by the United Nations office for Drugs and Crime. They are as follows: “declining public support, increased risks for pirates, protracted ransom negotiations and increased aggressiveness in international enforcement” (“Somalia”). These four reasons are allowing maritime officers to win the fight against piracy, regardless of the pace. They are helping in the aid to stop these bandits from robbing the world blind. They are able to increase the punishment for these crimes, increase time and effort put into catching them where they work, and gaining public support for the destruction of piracy. The future of piracy is cloudy, but with the precautions that are being taken by law enforcement and world governments could help carve out the end of the tunnel for piracy and its dangerous impact on the world’s economy.


Although data shows that Somalian piracy has been slowing down since 2006, it has not disappeared, and it cannot quickly repair the world’s economy. The damage has been done, but the only solution to this problem is to make sure that security measures can be taken against these bandits. Maritime police have put forth a large effort toward fixing this worldwide problem, but the progress has been slow. However, the world has much more resources than it did when pirates first emerged in the world, and the fight is a fair one.

Works Cited

Doyle, Michele Erina and Mark K. Smith. “Globalization: theory and experience.” Infed. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013. <http://infed.org/mobi/globalization-theory-and-experience/>.

Flintoff, Corey. “An Old Scourge, Piracy, Is New Again.” National Public Radio. 4 May 2009. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=103691069>.

Lovgren, Stefan. “Modern Pirates Terrorize Seas With Guns and Grenades.” National Geographic News. 6 Jul. 2006. Web. 1 Dec. 2013. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/07/060706-modern-pirates.html>.

“Map Pirates.” SWAT Security Systems. 13 Aug. 2013. Map. 30 Nov. 2013. <http://s1.ibtimes.com/sites/www.ibtimes.com/files/styles/v2_article_large/public/2013/03/08/mappirates.jpg>.

“Piracy Expansion.” Set Sail. 2011. Map. 1 Dec. 2013. <http://setsail.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/PiracyExpansion.jpg>.

Sector, Charlotte. “Danger Adrift: Modern-Day Pirates Threaten More Than the High Seas.” ABC News. 14 Nov. 2005. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=1300344>.

“Somalia: As Somali piracy falls, questions over what to do with captured pirates.” Horseed Media. 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://horseedmedia.net/2013/11/20/somalia-somali-piracy-falls-questions-captured-pirates/>.

“Somali Pirates Are Hurting The World More Than We Realized.” Business Insider. 2 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 Nov. 2013. <http://www.businessinsider.com/somali-pirates-hurt-the-global-economy-2013-11>.

“U.S. Relations with Somalia.” Bureau of African Affairs. 16 Aug. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2863.htm>.

Weiner, Rachel. “Rise of Modern-Day Pirates: Where They Come From, What They Want.” The Huffington Post. 11 May. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2013. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/10/rise-of-modern-day-pirate_n_185606.html>.