Piracy Modus Operandi Remains the Same Over Centuries


Sailing through the troubled waters of Africa, if the seafarers seek the Almighty’s blessing to be spared of the traumatic experience that  Julius Caesar had in the hands of pirates nearly 2000 years ago, their sentiment can be understood.

Nobody knows when pirate-ships would raid the merchant vessels in the Horns of Africa.

The method of attacks on ships continues to remain virtually the same as it was when the dangerous Cilician buccaneers raided the ship carrying Roman General Caesar in the Aegean Sea in 75 BC and kidnapped him. He was released only when the ransom was paid to the pirates: something that still continues in the same ancient fashion.

In reality pirate characters are not as dramatised as in story books but they are far more brutal and ferocious. They dress no more in hats, peg legs, eye patch with cutlass - rogue effect like in Halloween parties but are found with latest machine guns and sadist behaviour. With no rule and regulations, turning pirate is an easy option to earn millions of money on their land.

After the governments of different countries, including India, started sending armed naval ships to guard merchant vessels, the incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden has come down but the hijacking of ships and holding sailors for ransom continues unabated.

Currently, Somalis and Western Africa are topping the list of pirates in the world. And the most unsafe marine for seafarers wherein pirates lead their operations are near South Asia, Indian sub continent, Africa and Red Sea (Nigeria, Gulf of Aden, Cotonou, Lome, Abidjan i.e Ivory Coast).

But pirates in West Africa are more than willing to terrorise and slaughter the crew members than the Somali their counterparts, as their income is mostly based on selling the cargo in black market rather than from ransoming the crew members. According to experts many of the pirates hail from Nigeria, where there’s a thriving market for stolen crude oil.

Since years attacks in the waters off Nigeria, Benin and Togo have been commonplace for but attacks as far west as the Ivory Coast are a new development.

Piracy on the high seas is becoming an ever more serious problem for the merchant vessel, predominantly affecting the shipping industry worldwide. The waters off Somalia and the Gulf of Aden are where ships and tankers face the greatest threat from pirates.

Piracy has become Somali’s biggest money generating business as when an oil tank and container ships are attack, the ransomed asked in return is as big as approximately seven million Euros for a ship.

The modus operandi of the Somali cannot be understood through a pattern due to their rough actions. Linear vessels, container ships and  roll on/ roll off vessels which usually are at lower risk of hijack due to their free board and high speed operating system, Somali still managed to target them as well. 

With the help of high end ammunitions, rocket propelled grenades (RPG’s) they manage to slow down the ships so that could attack and take charge of the controls of the ship. Usually attack takes place when vessel is at anchor, drifting or conducting ship-to-ship transfers of refined products cargo.

Thereafter wheeling the ship to a deserted area to steal all the goods and keep the crew members as hostage for the negotiations with their respected flagship. A huge amount of ransom is asked for returning their ships, cargo and crew members. Apart from using the hijacked ship for huge ransom and looting, at times they are even used as their mother ships to carry out attacks in their further operations.

If taken into account the shipping insurance or the other cost of the shipping firms, major part of the damage which inflicts the economy of the shipping industry is done by pirates. Ransom, looting the cargos and vessels are all costing the firms at very high rate.

The piracy needs to be given a status of an industry as huge amount money involved in it. But the growth of this industry cannot be alone; they are abetted with few wealthy men worldwide that are involved in money laundering, human trafficking, dealing with them for weapons and ammunitions. Aid given to these pirates by such people has been the key instrument in growing and spreading their claws in the sea. These activities are not restricted to a particular country but it’s a global scenario.

These disguised upper crust people could be stopped and prosecuted by strict investigations of the governments so that the supply chain could be broken which can weaken their organizations. Talking of this account many kingpins have been arrested that has subsequently reduced the activities of the pirates but it has not completely eradicated the problems.

Reportedly, the document by the three organizations — the International Maritime Bureau, Oceans Beyond Piracy and the Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Program concluded that, different trends have been noticed of pirate organisations, which have different motives and operating systems.

Wherein Somalia believes in lucrative ransom against captives and ship, keeping them for a longer period of time wherein West Africans pirates have a quest for fast earning by selling the goods of the hijacked ship for quick profits.

But keeping in account the scores of various trends of the nature of piracy that troubled seafarers, making them particularly fearful of being seized by West African pirates, as five hostages were killed by them in 2012, in comparison to Somalia’s captives there were no casualties.

While sailing near the pirated prone areas, vessels are always warned to be cautious and to take necessary precautionary measures when transiting and also to be well equipped with anti piracy measures.

One of the efforts taken by Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) is that it has established Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). Military assets (Naval and Air) which will be strategically deploy within the area to best provide protection and support to merchant ships.

The London-based International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a specialized agency of the UN, has also recommended guidelines and security measures to make travel and transport by sea as safe as possible.


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