Somali Pirate Attacks Become More Frequent and Violent

Published Jun 5, 2012 10:12 AM by The Maritime Executive

Pirate attacks against commercial ships, especially by Somalia and Africa’s east coast, are becoming increasingly violent and frequent – as well as more lucrative for the pirates. Reports show that suspected pirates took in around $160 million in ransoms last year; another study estimates that amount to reach $400 million by 2015.

Shipping firms have intensified security onboard ships, and the European Union is continuing to fight back – even conducting airstrikes on pirate ships and bases. As a result of these increased measures, pirates have begun to step up their attacks. A representative from the Office of Naval Intelligence describes Somali piracy as an established, structured model. You have Somalis who are leading and financing operations, and then you have pirates who actually go out to sea and carry out the attack.

In 2011, global piracy reached its peak with 544 attacks against ships, reported the International Maritime Organization. This was an increase of 11 percent from 2010. Nearly half of the attacks occurred off East Africa, but range hundreds of miles out into the Indian Ocean. 17 hijackings have been reported to the International Maritime Bureau so far in 2012, more than half off Somalia's coast.

Typically, pirates board a ship, overpower the crew and sail it toward the islands off the East African coast. They express their demands to the shipping company and wait. Pirates have been known to hold crews captive for months, waiting for the ransom payment. The initial demand is usually between $10 million to $20 million, eventually cut down to $2 million to $5 million after months of negotiation. When the company agrees to meet the pirates' demand, a small plane or helicopter flies overhead, dropping a canister by parachute near the ship. They prefer to get paid in US $100 bills, reports Australia’s Herald Sun.

Somali pirates allegedly recruit their crews from among the teens that roam the streets in the northern Puntland region. Once signed on, they learn the ropes at sea. Most of the time, they are generally young men looking for a better life, and piracy is a quick way to become rich and get a part of the ransom is what they are told. Basically, they are given an AK-47 and are thrown onto a vessel, claim maritime security experts.