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Do Pirates Still Exist?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Most people conjure up the image of a man with an eye patch and a peg leg with a parrot when they think of pirates, assuming a person illegally downloading software doesn't come to mind. What many people are not aware of is that modern piracy on the high seas costs the global economy billions of dollars. Some regions of the global ocean are deemed extremely dangerous, including the waters surrounding Indonesia and Somalia. Piracy attacks number in the hundreds annually, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

How Modern Pirates Operate

Piracy is carried out for the cargo aboard ships, which are sometimes either sunk or retrofitted so that they cannot be identified. These “ghost ships” are used to carry out additional pirate attacks and move illegal goods globally. Most of these ships are eventually recovered by their owners. Pirates are especially common in Southeast Asia and off the coast of Africa, where unstable local governments have resulted in a power vacuum, easily filled by pirates.

Two favorite targets of pirates are supertankers or very large crude carriers, ships designed to carry an extremely large amount of expensive cargo. These ships are slow-moving, and therefore make easy targets, especially in areas which are difficult to navigate. In most cases, the ships are almost fully automated, and therefore have a limited staff to defend against pirates. Several major shipping companies have begun implementing measures to try and counteract piracy, but these measures are sometimes countered from within by mutinies and takeovers carried out by the staff of the ship. Murder of crew members has been known to happen, with death by piracy an unfortunate fact for some merchant mariners.


Do Pirates Attack Cruise Ships?

Pirates also attempt attacks on cruise ships and sailboats for the lucrative cargo within. Some cruise ship passengers carry thousands of dollars, intended to last for the duration of a sometimes lengthy trip. Confronted with armed pirates, most passengers will surrender money and personal goods. Successful cruise ship attacks are rare, thanks to well-trained crew who act quickly to prevent piracy.

Some nations also experience quasi-military piracy, attacks on ships carried out by desperate members of the national military who are not making enough money to survive. Using military equipment, uniforms, and credentials, these pirates can gain access to a wide variety of ships and loot them. In this case, pirates usually attack small personal vessels that are easy to assault.

The Cost of Modern Piracy

Piracy tends to be under-reported, due to the way in which marine insurance policies are written. Most companies will report the ship as lost to collect insurance, rather than reporting it captured by pirates. Some insurance companies are cooperating with major shipping companies to embed LoJack systems, aimed at tracking and preventing hijackings, or at least recovering stolen ships, which can represent the loss of millions of dollars to a shipping company.

Modern-day pirates began to be a growing threat in the year 2000, with a 60 percent increase in pirate attacks over the year before. Increasing global instability contributes to the threat of piracy, with a limited number of nations beginning to take steps against the pirates infesting their coastal waters. Several global bodies monitor piracy, including the International Chamber of Commerce, which also provides suggestions for avoiding and repelling pirate attacks.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon934215 — On Feb 19, 2014

Pirates nowadays are loaded with all different kinds of weapons. They are even more dangerous than before.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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