Piracy has been around for as long as maritime trade. Although the technology pirates use has changed considerably since people first sailed the seas, the essence of piracy has remained the same to this day. Typically, pirates try to board the vessels under attack, steal money and valuables from the ship’s crew, or steal the ship’s cargo. In some cases, pirates take the crew hostage and demand ransom. To carry out attacks, pirates use a variety of weapons - ranging from firearms to knives – that are used to threaten and sometimes even kill seafarers. In 2021, one crew member was killed during pirate attacks and four were injured.
Pirates often operate in international waters, posing a challenge for governments to effectively combat it. Besides laws that outlaw piracy and punish convicted pirates, countries deploy armed ships to patrol important maritime chokepoints, guard private ships and if need be, fend off pirate ships.
Most pirate-infested waters
Piracy is an international phenomenon, not bound to any particular region. There are, however, factors that make piracy flourish in certain parts of the world. Poor coastal areas with few economic opportunities, low literacy rates, weak governments, and the rule of law, as well as easy access to weapons and proximity to busy shipping lanes give rise to more pirate activity than other areas. A prime example of such an area is Somalia, which was considered a piracy hotspot between the 1990s and 2010s. It was only after a concerted international effort led by the UN to combat Somali piracy that the number of piracy attacks off of the Somali coast dropped dramatically in the late 2010s.
Nowadays, most pirate attacks are committed in the Singapore Straits and off the coast of Peru. In 2021, 35 pirate attacks were carried out against ships in the Singapore Straits and 18 attacks against ships in the Peruvian waters. Although piracy can be carried out by people to secure livelihood, more often than not it is a way for militant groups and criminal gangs to raise money for their activities.
Uptake in piracy during the COVID-19 pandemic
After peaking in 2010 and 2011, global attempted and actual attacks reached a record low in 2019. However, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic led to a rise in pirate activity in 2020. The global number of actual and attempted piracy attacks increased by 20 percent in 2020, from 162 piracy incidents in 2019 to 195 incidents in 2020. Not only have been presumably more people left with fewer opportunities to secure a living but weak economic conditions have left governments with fewer resources to battle piracy. In 2021, however, the number of pirate attacks dropped to 132, the lowest amount on record.
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