BBC World Service Documentary: Pirates

Tim Konrad
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December 7, 2008

The BBC World Service has recently released an audio documentary that takes a look at Piracy around the world. You can download the program HERE

Robbery on the high seas is not just confined to 18th century literature or Hollywood films, it is still very much alive today.

In the second part of his series on pirates, Nick Rankin travels to Mombasa on Kenya’s east coast to investigate the extent of the problem.

From ship-owners who have had to pay ransoms to terrorised crew-members, he finds out what is being done at an international level to make the seas of the world safer.

Part 2 – Modern day sea pirates

Ninety percent of the world’s trade is still moved by sea, so it is not surprising that piracy against cargo vessels remains a significant issue.

It is estimated that seaborne piracy costs the world tens of millions of dollars a year.

Piracy peaked in 2003 with 445 attacks around the world and since then, they have steadily come down.

In 2006 there were 239 attacks and last year the number increased slightly to 249.

Attacks rose by fourteen percent towards the end of last year, largely around the territorial waters off Somalia.

Potential targets

According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirates attack different kinds of vessels for a variety of reasons.

In Nigeria, pirates tend to attack vessels involved in the oil business.

In South East Asia, mainly small tankers, tugs and barges are seized.

Cargo is often stolen from barges and crew-members are kidnapped and held for ransom.

In Somalia, any merchant ship is a potential target and they are advised to stay at least 200 miles off the coat of Somalia.

Piracy is a growing business

Somalia is a unique problem as there is no effective central government and no navy to protect its territorial waters.

The country has also been at war for almost two decades.

As a result, many young Somali men are uneducated and have no concept of the rule of law. Piracy has now become a way of making a living.

Many foreign vessels fish in Somali waters ilegally, so militia groups have taken it upon themselves to tax those who do.

Pirate fisherman provide cheap fish for home markets and Somali pirates support their towns and villages.

That raises a key question: is helping your own people good or bad?

An organisation called ‘Taskforce 150’ has been in operation since 2003 to try and improve maritime security. It involves naval forces from America, Britain, Pakistan and many more.

Without help from other countries, it is very difficult to imagine whether Somalia will have sufficient resources and infrastructure to deal with piracy itself.


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