The success of pirates today hinges very much on four basic elements, much like their Caribbean brothers three hundred years ago. Without these components, modern pirates would be more of a nuisance than a threat.
…..First, pirates depend heavily on a hideout. This could be a port or country where either no one cares about their presence or is unable to do much about it. Strongholds of the Caribbean pirates were scattered throughout the islands: Port Royal, Tortuga, and Nassau. Far from Spain and England, these pirates wreaked havoc at will then returned to their refuge.
Until recently, Somalian pirates had been quite successful. With no country in close proximity to their home base, they merely had to blatantly sail home with their booty. Times have changed for Somalian pirates; like England and France years ago, the countries affected have brought pressure upon them and the attacks have dropped dramatically; but the price is vigilance.
…..Second, pirates thrive on a hot bed of commercial shipping. You can’t be a bank robber if you aren’t near banks. You can’t be a sailor if you aren’t willing to go to where there’s water. Caribbean pirates thrived on the Spanish Main and any other shipping lane offering the promise of wealth. Ships passing through the islands became easy prey for treasure, ships, human cargo, and other booty.
Modern pirates in the Indian Ocean, off the West Coast of Africa, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia all have their own targets. Some are even brazen enough to attack ships anchored in port. Oil and other precious cargo have become the new booty.
…..Third, pirates take every advantage of the hit and run. It wasn’t baseball players, but pirates who perfected this technique 300 years ago. With craft smaller and faster than their prey, their strength lay in surprise and speed. We often think those pirates loved massive ships loaded with cannons, but the truth is many pirates preferred small craft that were unobtrusive and fast. Take the prey by surprise, get in, get out, disappear. Today’s pirates with their modern boats and sophisticated technology have reinvented this technique.
…..Finally, pirates use the Far Side Syndrome to pillage and plunder with abandon. Far from England and France, Caribbean pirates could attack without impunity. Today everywhere that piracy has become a serious problem, the same is true. By the time a tanker is taken or a merchant ship plundered, authorities half a world away may have difficulty reacting in real time. Only by maintaining a significant presence in problem areas and intimately cooperating with other countries will the problem be resolved.
There are exceptions to each of these components, and unique situations will arise along with the technology pirates are availing themselves of; of course, the maritime industry constantly strives to stay ahead of these thugs.
The ancient Greeks once noted: When God created the sea, he created pirates. It’s the nature of piracy and the seas. No matter how hard countries of the world try, we will root out specific pirates, but we’ll never root out piracy. When one group is stopped, others willing to risk their lives or imprisonment will take their place. However, the vanquishing of Caribbean and Somalian pirates proves the problem is not only manageable but solvable. Will it be easy? No! Will it be simple? No! Will it require vigilance and sacrifice? Plenty! Will it require creative and novel approaches unique to the 21st century? Without a doubt.
Putting the romanticism of the Caribbean pirates aside, the lawless marauders who threaten world commerce and the lives of mariners everywhere need to be stopped. We all pay a price when a ship is attacked. Too often mariners pay the ultimate price. The power of nations flung across the globe can become a strong net when united. With cooperation, imagination, and laser focus, it‘s a sure bet the pirates will be the big loser.