World's Most Pirated Waters
Cargo ships are no longer the sole targets on the world’s most pirated waters. Kidnapping passengers for millions in ransom can be more lucrative than hijacking ships for the cargo’s value. Fortunately, the percentage of attacks is minuscule; most cruise routes are not affected; and small boats and yachts are more vulnerable than increasingly well-fortified cruise ships.
In fact, cruise lines have taken many proactive steps to ensure their passengers’ safety. Lanie Fagan, director of communications at Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), says that all members have implemented anti-piracy measures. Most companies are reluctant to share specifics, but Crystal Cruises, for instance, hired additional security professionals and enhanced its contact with regional naval authorities and Combined Task Force 151, an anti-piracy patrol launched by 20 nations in 2009.
To determine the world’s most pirated waters, we pooled data from CLIA, the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC), and Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants, with an emphasis on the more trafficked waterways. According to the PRC, 2011 has already seen more than 240 attacks and more than 360 hostage situations. PRC’s Twitter feed reveals frequent news of pirate attacks, while the International Chamber of Commerce’s crime division updates a piracy map daily. Even so, the data remains imperfect as a ship may choose not to report an incident.
Pirate attacks occur everywhere from the Philippines to Peru, but the waters around Somalia and points south have the worst reputation. In January 2011, pirates chased the Zanzibar-bound Spirit of Adventure, and the captain huddled all 350 passengers in the ship’s center. The boat outran the pirates, and the passengers returned home safely.
Still, it’s independent yachtsmen who need to be especially wary of the pirate threat. “The idyllic anchorages and ports in Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, the Seychelles, Mauritius, Yemen—once must-stops for yachtsmen—are now avoided because they’re in pirated waters,” says John Burnett, whose harrowing experience in Southeast Asia led him to write Dangerous Waters: Modern Piracy and Terror on the High Seas. His book serves as a cautionary tale. “I was one of the lucky ones,” Burnett says. “I survived.”
Adjacent to Red Sea shipping routes, Somalia’s 1,880-mile coast has become the Venus flytrap of modern piracy. Pirates on mother ships launch smaller vessels, whose crews use weapons to maneuver their victims into exposed positions where they can be hijacked. Somali pirates have also become more adventurous, attacking vessels off the shores of Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, and Oman. During monsoon season, the pirates migrate to calmer waters in the southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the Mozambique Channel.
As luxury cruises and yacht excursions for tourists increase between the islands of the Maldives and the Seychelles, the waterway has drawn the attention of pirates. Off the coast of the Seychelles, pirates fired at the MSC Melody in April 2009. Passengers were able to block the pirates from taking the ship by throwing deck chairs at them as they tried to board, while the Melody’s crew fired back at pirates with pistols.
The illegal drug trade has put Peru’s coast on the map of pirate-infested waters. The port city of Callao has become a leading region for piracy attacks in both South America and North America.
Gulf of Aden
Most pirates here aim to hijack Suez Canal–bound cargo traffic. That said, this was the place pirates captured a Danish family of five on an around-the-world journey by yacht. But steps are being taken to remove all danger. In February 2009, Maritime Security Center – Horn of Africa established the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor. Additionally, naval and air assets have been strategically deployed in the area to provide security and support to passing ships.
Pirates are migratory, and their ramshackle vessels must follow the weather patterns. During monsoon season, the Arabian Sea is too stormy for seafaring, but from October to May, it’s a prime spot to be targeted by Somali pirates, who are extending their reach into this area. The International Chamber of Commerce recommends keeping an around-the-clock visual and radar watch while transiting these waters.
Seychelles to Tanzania
This beautiful stretch of ocean is increasingly popular with tourists, and also near a busy shipping lane, which unfortunately makes it popular with pirates. In 2009, a British couple were kidnapped from their yacht and held in Somalia for 13 months until a ransom payment was made.
Straits of Malacca
These waters were once considered the world’s most dangerous; cargo and tourists were preyed upon by bands of Orang Laut pirates, and insurance rates were on par with Iraq. But Southeast Asia’s Straits of Malacca have seen a significant decrease of pirate activity in the last two years thanks to better-patrolled waters.
Gulf of Guinea
There’s been a sharp rise of cargo and tanker piracy attacks off the coast of Nigeria, as the turmoil of the oil-rich Niger Delta region spreads out to sea. And as cruise ships on around-the-world itineraries increasingly eschew the pirated waters on the Suez Canal route, they are now diverted to the coast off of Nigeria, Benin, Guinea, and Cameroon. No official reports of attacks on tourists have been filed, although a case of an Asian-bound cruise ship being shot at by pirates was rumored.
Some yachtsmen and cruise ships rely on the Red Sea as a gateway for around-the-world journeys. Most pirate activity has traditionally been concentrated in areas not frequented by leisure ships: the southern part of the sea and the Bab-el-Mandeb (the Gate of Grief), a strait between Yemen and Djibouti. But patterns are slowly trending north. Already there have been 17 attacks in 2011, all on cargo ships and tankers—none on yachts or cruise liners.
The Mafia Island archipelago off the coast of Tanzania offers terrific snorkeling. And with tourist hot spots like Zanzibar and the Comoros Islands, the coastline has long been a favorite of intrepid sailors and cruise ships alike. In January 2011, pirates chased the Zanzibar-bound Spirit of Adventure during a black-tie dinner, and all 348 passengers sought safety below deck. Fortunately, the boat outran the pirates and the passengers returned home safely.