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Live Piracy Report

Piracy Today

Piracy consists of the seizure on the high seas, by violence and force of arms, of vessels, cargoes and persons, without government authorization and in the private interests of the predators. A pirate is at war with every other person on earth, regardless of nationality, therefore they are at war with him. Thus the law of nations, as international law was originally called, permitted the forces of every nation to seize pirates, try them for their crimes and hang them on behalf of all of the civilized nations of the world.

In modem times, we tend to think of piracy as flourishing in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in waters and islands of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. This "golden age" of piracy is recent enough to leave behind many accurate accounts and court records and much colorful and romantic fiction. Today, there are indications that government efforts are failing and piracy is once again a growth business in some parts of the world. Neither the United Nations, nor any other government organization seems to have hard data on the frequency and cost of piratical attacks.

A private group, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce in London, seeks to record and measure the frequency and severity of such data as it appears. High officials of IMB report that between 1991 and 1997, the complete seizure and hijacking of ships in international trade increased from one to fourteen and the dollar value of the property thus stolen grew twelve times over.

The coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and other narrow passages in the South China Sea, are the hot spots for worldwide piracy, accounting for nearly half of the economic loss in 1997. The west coast of Africa is another area of concentrated pirate activity but the east coast nations of Somalia and Yemen are also experiencing it.

In the Caribbean, there have been a number of incidents in recent years in which violence and death have been visited upon the crews and passengers of private yachts cruising between islands, at least some of these tragic events have occurred under circumstances suggesting the presence of drugs as a factor.

Why have governments, with their massive military power, been unable to end piracy? One might as well ask why they have not been able to control drug smuggling, money laundering and illegal immigration.

Why don't the ship owners arm and train their crews to fight back? Here the answer is quite clear: it's not worth the effort. The IMB, which measured the 1995 worldwide loss to pirates at just over sixty two million dollars, points out that the total value of international shipping is now so huge that the pirate's share amounts to only about three cents for every thousand dollars of cargo delivered. The ship owners, cargo shippers, and their insurance companies are not yet facing a situation bad enough to lead them to demand that their governments and the United Nations take

Excerpts from Donald Petrie

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