The word “pirate” is primarily associated with images of seventeenth-century adventure, voyages on boards, sword fights, and treasure chests. But who would have thought that maritime piracy would revive in recent decades? Except that, modern pirates are nothing like the pirates we are used to seeing in the movies. Instead, real modern pirates are brutal criminals, not romantic heroes fighting for love and friendship.
Pirates still exist in the twenty-first century, and in many different forms:
- Content (music, movies, games, etc.) and software piracy.
- Smuggling cigarettes and counterfeit medicines.
- Maritime pirates.
Copyright theft and smuggling aside, there are real sea pirates in the 21st century. This results from a bad life in problematic and poorly controlled areas of the globe, such as the Caribbean, the islands of Indonesia, Somalia, and Nigeria.
These days it’s getting more dangerous in some areas. For example, we live in a time when the Cold War is over, but at the same time, numerous national powers are fighting for their position in the world, and non-state organizations and terrorist groups are seeking to take advantage of such conflict situations.
After the bipolar world of the Cold War collapsed, there was a shift toward globalization. Things are much more complicated now, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, especially when they live in close proximity to each other, is also contributing to this. In addition, there are other serious incentives for crime, especially if law and order do not allow it to be controlled.
Modern pirates pose a particular danger to yachters. Yachts are a much easier target than commercial vessels with a full crew and armed guards. In addition, yachters are perceived as a very attractive target because they are considered wealthy and able to pay a ransom. As a result, most small yachts cannot afford additional personnel to provide security during long crossings.
In some parts of the world, maritime spaces are unprotected or regulated.
In the last decade, Somali pirates along the sea routes from the Persian Gulf and Asia to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal have become the most notorious. Piracy in this region blossomed in 2005 after the Somali civil war.
Modern pirates can also be found in the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Straits of Malacca. They are often armed with AK-47s and grenade launchers. Pirates no longer sail on ancient sailing ships but on speedboats and seize merchant ships, yachts, and other vessels, often taking hostages and demanding ransom for them.
Modern piracy poses a serious problem for civilians, with millions of dollars worth of looted goods, bloody murders, and treacherous kidnappings taking place every year.
Here are 10 of the most shocking cases.
10. Yacht Quest
In 2011, 4 Americans embarked on their dream vacation trip around the world on a yacht called Quest. Unfortunately, the voyage soon turned into a real nightmare when they were attacked by Somali pirates 305 kilometers off the coast of Oman. In response, the U.S. Navy sent its aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and three other warships to the area to free the hostages.
Within days, the military had reached the location of the Quest, which the pirates were trying to drive back to the coast of Somalia. While negotiating for the release of American citizens, two pirate negotiators boarded the USS Sterett, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer. The Navy offered the pirates a hostage exchange for an entire yacht, but the bandits rejected the offer, believing that a much larger ransom could be obtained for the prisoners.
As the pirate negotiators sailed back, one of the Somali bandits fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the U.S. destroyer from aboard Quest. Fortunately, they missed. The grenade was followed by gunfire from Quest’s deck, and the Americans had to respond – a team of U.S. Navy SEALs was ordered to retake the yacht and rescue the hostages from the aggressors.
A brief battle ensued, during which two modern pirates were killed (one was shot, and the other was stabbed to death). The remaining bandits surrendered. Most regrettably, all four hostages were killed by the pirates – they had been shot and died of their wounds.
The U.S. military also recovered the bodies of 2 other pirates who had been killed earlier in unknown circumstances. It is possible that during the original hijacking of the Quest yacht, the American tourists gave a decent fight to the bandits. It is still unclear what exactly caused the pirates to shoot their prisoners. This story is a reminder to all travelers of the dangers that lurk in the waters of distant seas.
9. Tanker Chaumont
According to experts, one of the most serious dangers associated with modern pirates is the risk of ecological disaster. When pirates seize merchant ships, they often tie up the crew and leave them without control. Sometimes such ships continue at full throttle on an uncontrolled trajectory.
The worst situation is when a hijacked ship with industrial cargo is taken out of control in a narrow strait. There is an almost 100% chance that the ship will crash, and all of its contents (often oil and chemical tanks) will spill out into the ocean. This is exactly what nearly happened in 1999 in the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Indonesia when the French tanker Chaumont was hijacked.
The pirates were armed with machetes and attacked the tanker early in the morning, quickly gaining full control of the ship. After immobilizing all of the crew, the bandits emptied the safe and abandoned board. The bound sailors were unable to free themselves for another 35 minutes, during which time the tanker sailed at full throttle along the narrow channel.
Many still consider it a true miracle that the Chaumont did not collide with another ship or underwater rocks. It did not even land on the reefs lining the entire coastline of the region.
8. Sir Peter Blake
In 2001, the world was shocked by the murder of Sir Peter Blake, the famous New Zealand navigator. He was considered one of the most outstanding sailors of all time. Blake had twice won America’s Cup, the most prestigious trophy in yachting, and set a number of world records on his vessel. In 2001, he began his journey down the Amazon River as part of a research expedition to check the river’s ecological condition.
On the night of December 5, Blake and 14 other crew members aboard the yacht Seamaster were anchored in the suburbs of Macapa when eight modern pirates armed with guns and knives broke into the vessel. As the bandits shouted their demands, Peter grabbed a rifle and shot one of the intruders. A firefight ensued in which the legendary navigator was killed. The bandits enriched themselves with a small engine and a few pairs of watches. That was the price of Blake’s life.
Piracy in Amazon waters is a widespread phenomenon. Many believe that the problem has worsened, especially in recent years, and that local authorities have no influence in the area. There is complete lawlessness on the Amazon. The tragic murder of Sir Peter Blake illustrates the ugliness of modern piracy. It takes place all over the world, and it is not only in the vast waters of the oceans that you should be wary of robbers but also in other smaller bodies of water.
7. The Abduction of Tebbutt
In September 2011, British loyalists Judith Tebbutt and her husband, David, were vacationing at a luxury resort on the coast of Kenya. They were the only guests at the isolated resort, which Judith didn’t like right away. However, armed pirates awakened the couple on the second night of their stay. The wife was forcibly put aboard a boat and taken to Somalia, where she was held hostage in a cramped shelter.
During her captivity, the woman learned that her husband had been killed the night of the attack when David tried to resist one of the brigands. The modern pirates were allegedly affiliated with the Islamist military group Al-Shabaab. In March 2012, the pirates released Judith after six months of imprisonment. Apparently, this only happened because Tebbut’s relatives paid a hefty ransom.
6. The ship Maersk Alabama
It is about the merchant ship Maersk Alabama, which became particularly famous because of the movie Captain Philips, based on the incident. In 2009, this American ship received worldwide attention because pirates attacked it. The ship was crossing the Indian Ocean bound for the Kenyan port of Mombasa when Somali bandits attacked it in a small motorboat. Despite resistance from the crew, the modern pirates managed to board the merchant ship.
Within minutes, the bandits captured the ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, but they failed to capture all 21 crew members. Many of the sailors were able to lock themselves away in fortified quarters. The crew was able to shut down the ship’s engines, preventing the pirates from taking complete control of the ship. Moreover, the sailors resisted vigorously. They even ambushed and captured one of the pirates.
The bandits quickly realized that they were not in control and abandoned the ship. The three pirates decided to try to escape on the lifeboat Maersk Alabama, taking Captain Phillips with them to cover their rear while sailing back to Somalia.
The lifeboat was chased by several U.S. warships negotiating with the pirates for the captain’s release. After several days of fruitless negotiations and after one unsuccessful attempt to escape Captain Phillips, Navy SEAL snipers shot all three pirates. Nevertheless, the captain was rescued, and he and his crew were recognized as heroes for their bravery and resourcefulness.
5. The hijacking of the Achille Lauro liner
The accident happened in 1985. The Achille Lauro was an Italian liner sailing the Mediterranean Sea with 700 passengers on board. On October 7, the ship docked at Alexandria. Here many of the liner’s guests disembarked to visit the famous pyramids.
At that time, four Palestinian militants affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Front infiltrated the ship. Waving rifles, modern pirates seized the liner, ordering it to leave the port with 400 people on board, including vacationers and the crew. Although many consider these hijackers to be terrorists, technically, they are more like pirates.
The armed gunmen demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The Israeli authorities refused to respond to these demands. The pirates sent the Achille Lauro to the Syrian port of Tartus, but the Syrian government forbade them from entering its territory. Angered by the refusal, the pirates responded by shooting a 69-year-old American Jew in a wheelchair and throwing his body overboard. Presumably, he was chosen for religious reasons.
The airliner then departed for Egypt, where the hijackers contacted the local authorities, released the hostages in exchange for unhindered access to the airport, and received the plane in which they were going to flee to an unknown destination.
However, after the plane took off, it was intercepted by U.S. fighter jets on the orders of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. As a result, the flight was forced to land at a NATO base in Italy, where local authorities arrested the pirate hijackers.
4. The Naham 3 ship
Naham 3 was a fishing vessel fishing in the Indian Ocean in 2012 when modern pirates attacked it. The crew consisted of 29 people from various Asian countries, including China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The sailors were taken to Somalia, where they were held in the desert. The captors demanded huge sums of money to return the captives unharmed.
According to the fishermen, they were often beaten during captivity and had to eat rats and bugs to survive. As a result, two crew members died of disease, and another was shot and killed. Four and a half years later, the pirates received a much smaller sum for the prisoners and still let the 26 remaining hostages go home. In all, they remained in captivity for 1,672 days…
3. Vessel Hye Mieko
The Hye Mieko was a merchant ship owned by a Singapore company, voyaging from Singapore to Cambodia in 1995 when it was attacked. The ship, loaded with $2 million worth of cigarettes and other goods, never made it to Cambodia. Authorities speculate that the Chinese Coast Guard seized Hye Mieko. The crew was probably made to sail across international seas for thousands more kilometers to South China.
When the ship arrived, it was sold off along with its cargo. So far, it is not known who and to who sold all the goods and where the money went. Official China has refused to admit its involvement in the incident, even though it has repeatedly been accused of having links to pirates. Interestingly, the ship managed to issue a distress signal during which the crew reported the pirates, but no one came to their aid.
The involvement of local authorities in pirate raids is not common, but in this case, it was almost obvious.
2. Seabourn Spirit attack
In 2005, the cruise ship Seaburn Spirit was sailing 160 kilometers off the coast of Somalia when modern pirates attacked it. Two boats with heavily armed bandits circled around the ship with 300 passengers on board and then opened fire. The ship was fired on several times with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The liner’s two security officers, Michael Groves and Som Bahadur Gurung, attempted to repel the bandits with a high-pressure hose and a high-tech LRAD sound gun.
During the fight, Gurund was hit by shrapnel from a grenade launcher explosion, but Groves managed to pull him to safety and then continued to fight the maritime bandits under heavy fire. After half an hour, the pirates finally surrendered and retreated, and the Seaburn Spirit liner was able to sail further out to sea at a safe distance. For their courage, Grove and Gurund were awarded medals of honor at the hands of the Queen of England herself.
1. The cargo ship Erria Inge
In 1990, a Chinese business leased the Australian ship Erria Inge. A few months later, both the ship’s owner and the leasing company lost contact with the ship and its crew. Erria Inge was believed to have been attacked by modern pirates.
It then became clear through a series of circumstantial evidence that the ship had been given a new name, and under forged documents, the stolen ship had been used to deliver illegal cargo. Pirates do this quite often, knowing that no ordinary shipping company would risk their lives to get their ships back.
The mysterious story of the Erria Inge was continued in 1992 when employees of the ship’s new owner, who had bought it for scrap metal, made an unusual discovery. In a long-unused freezer, they discovered the remains of 10 burned bodies. It was absolutely unclear who the victims were or what had happened to them, but there was little doubt that pirates were involved. The startling find made on board the hijacked ship Erria Inge serves as a chilling reminder of the risks still persist on the high seas today.