View Full Version : Small Wars at Sea: 21st century piracy

11-18-2005, 07:17 AM
18 Nov. Washington Times Op-Ed by Austin Bay - Pirates Arrghh Still Around (http://www.washtimes.com/commentary/20051117-083540-8393r.htm).

In June 2005, I received two briefings from CENTCOM naval officers on coalition naval operations off Africa's Somali coast and in the Red Sea. Chasing pirates is a key mission. Stopping piracy protects African and Arab fishermen and shippers, so it's good politics. There's also little doubt al Qaeda has paid local pirates to smuggle personnel and weapons.

Naval patrols off Somalia, however, didn't deter last week's audacious -- and unsuccessful -- pirate assault on the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit. Somali pirates in small boats attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. The liner's captain and crew maneuvered their ship, using it as a weapon -- it's big, and it generates a massive wake. The liner also employed a directional "parabolic audio boom-box." The nonlethal "sonic weapon" emitted an eardrum-shattering sound. The frustrated pirates retreated...

The spike in media interest may give Jack Gottschalk and Brian Flanagan a belated best-seller. Their Jolly Roger With an Uzi: The Rise and Threat of Modern Piracy (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1557503281/smallwarsjour-20/103-4813759-1703817?%5Fencoding=UTF8&camp=1789&link%5Fcode=xm2)," published by Naval Institute Press in 2000, documented the rise of "new piracy," to include smuggling and maritime scams, and terrorists at sea.

11-18-2005, 07:42 AM
An alarming rise in the number of piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia is reported by the ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB). After a quiet spell of nearly two years, says the bureau, serious attacks by heavily-armed pirates have resumed: 25 in the past six months. In one incident a ship was lured into danger by pirates firing bogus distress flares.
The International Chamber of Commerce Commercial Crime Services website (http://www.icc-ccs.org/main/index.php) actually publishes a weekly Piracy Report (http://www.icc-ccs.org/prc/piracyreport.php). ARRRR!

11-18-2005, 07:58 AM
H/T for the research link!

12-15-2005, 05:16 AM
Keeping the Barbary Coast War in the back of your mind, think of the threats to international trade that uncheck piracy could create - particularly if it was given clandestine direction, intelligence and material assistance from a group or government.

Right now, the hot spots are the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Check out ONI's open source updates here: http://pollux.nss.nima.mil/onit/onit_j_main.html

12-16-2005, 10:55 AM
Piracy is one problem, second will be hostage situations. ferry or criuse ship loaded 2000-3000 people is easier to seize, and to defend for terrorists than airplane. Imagine 2002 Nord-Ost Crisis (in Moscow) on ship. I think that only few countries have forces sufficent to conduct such hostage-rescue operation.

02-08-2006, 07:09 AM
8 Feb Washington Times - U.S. Navy Boards Suspected Pirate Ship (http://www.washtimes.com/world/20060207-095827-1262r.htm).

The United States was striking a pre-emptive blow when it ordered a U.S. Navy destroyer to detain and board a suspected pirate ship in the Indian Ocean last month, aiming to see that terrorists do not lash up with pirates in the Asia-Pacific region.

The destroyer, the USS Winston S. Churchill, was ordered to intercept the suspected pirate ship on Jan. 21 after the U.S. Central Command, from its forward headquarters in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, was contacted by the International Maritime Bureau, based in Malaysia. The maritime bureau monitors piracy all over the world, but especially in Asia.

Steve Blair
01-25-2007, 06:56 PM
Piracy has been on the scope for some time, but sadly it gets ignored in most news outlets.

Tom Odom
01-25-2007, 07:12 PM

Good point. I gave COIN classes last July here and I began with a short bit on history. Most students were surprised when I brought up the Barbary pirates as an example of small, joint (land and sea), unconventional warfare.

The same thing happens when one talks about naval warfare and Africa; the immediate focus is on ports, sea lanes, and chokepoints like the Cape, the Horn, and the Suez canal. Most do not think of "sea control" as it applies to lakes (Victoria, Tanganyika, Kivu, Edwards, etc), rivers (Congo, Nile, Blue Nile, and White Nile), and certain swamps (like the Sudd in southern Sudan).



01-26-2007, 02:05 PM
About a year or so ago there was a show on History or Discovery channel about ships owned by Al Qaeda. I didn’t see it all and was never too clear about the sources of their information but what I did see was interesting. If you are interested in the subject you might want to look for it.

Merv Benson
01-26-2007, 04:38 PM
One of the interesting aspects of the Sri Lanka-Tamil Tiger war is how much of it is taking place in sea battles. While the Tamil have been given credit for popularizing the suicide attack, right now I think they are the only small wars force that is actively engaging in sea battles that I am aware of. By sea battles I am not including al Qaeda type attacks like the one on the US war ship in Yemen, but an actually exchange of fire from one ship to another.

There have been a few engagements off of Somalia, but in those the pirates were using RPG's I believe.

07-28-2007, 08:29 AM
Smithsonian Magazine - The Pirate Hunters (http://www.smithsonianmagazine.com/issues/2007/august/pirate-main.php) by Paul Raffaele.

... Pirates have been causing trouble ever since men first went down to the sea in ships, or at least since the 14th century B.C., when Egyptian records mention Lukkan pirates raiding Cyprus. A millennium later, Alexander the Great tried to sweep the Mediterranean clear of marauding bandits, to no avail. In 75 B.C., ship-based cutthroats took Julius Caesar hostage and ransomed him for 50 talents. The historian Plutarch wrote that Caesar then returned with several ships, captured the pirates and crucified the lot of them.

That hardly spelled the end of pirating. At the beginning of the 13th century A.D., Eustace the Monk terrorized the English Channel, and the European colonization of the Americas, with all its seaborne wealth, led to the so-called golden age of piracy, from 1660 to 1730—the era of Blackbeard, Black Bart, Captain Kidd and other celebrated pirates of the Caribbean. The era ended only after seafaring nations expanded their navies and prosecuted more aggressively to deal with the threat.

Now the seedy romance of the golden-age legends may be supplanted by a new reality: as governments cut their navies after the cold war, as thieves have gotten hold of more powerful weapons and as more and more cargo has moved by sea, piracy has once again become a lucrative form of waterborne mugging. Attacks at sea had become rare enough to be a curiosity in the mid-20th century, but began to reappear in the 1970s. By the 1990s, maritime experts noted a sharp increase in attacks, which led the IMB to establish the Piracy Reporting Centre in 1992—and still the buccaneering continued, with a high of 469 attacks registered in 2000. Since then, improvements in reporting, ship-tracking technology and government reaction have calmed the seas somewhat—the center counted 329 attacks in 2004, down to 276 in 2005 and 239 last year—but pirates remain very much in business, making the waters off Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Somalia especially perilous. "We report hundreds of acts of piracy each year, many hundreds more go undetected," says Capt. Noel Choong, head of the Piracy Reporting Centre, in Kuala Lumpur. "Ships and their crews disappear on the high seas and coastal waters every year, never to be seen again." Even stationary targets, such as oil platforms, are at risk...

07-29-2007, 01:45 PM
Fascinating story and I think an often overlook part of GWOT. Col. Warden talked about this being a key part of any world wide counter-terror effort years ago. I thought that was pretty interesting that an Air Force Col. would recognize how critical the Navy is in GWOT. Any comments from the council?

06-06-2008, 02:46 AM
RAND, 4 Jun 08: The Maritime Dimension of International Security:
Terrorism, Piracy, and Challenges for the United States (http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG697.pdf)

In today’s global environment, transnational security challenges—so-called grey-area phenomena—pose serious and dynamic challenges to national and international stability. These dangers, which cannot be readily defeated by the traditional defenses that states have erected to protect both their territories and populaces, reflect the remarkable fluidity that currently characterizes world politics—a setting in which it is no longer apparent exactly who can do what to whom with what means. The maritime realm is especially conducive to these types of threat contingencies given its vast, largely unregulated, and opaque nature. Two specific issues that have elicited particular attention are piracy and seaborne terrorism. This monograph assesses the nature, scope, and dimensions of these two manifestations of nonstate violence at sea, the extent to which they are or are not interrelated, and their overall relevance to U.S. national and international security interests.....

06-06-2008, 02:53 AM
I was thinking about piracy today (i got my monthly copy of the piracy report). With fuel prices increasing the volume of intracostal shipping will be increasing, and I expect that the canal (panamanian) with their opening another lane will also result in more coast-to-coast shipping. Shipping is the cheapest forms of transport and one of the least legislated.

As an aside I realized that I've never even heard of a Merchant Marine officer (the forgotten service) ever attending a DHS conference.

06-29-2008, 01:42 PM
To err is to human... to ARRRGh is to pirate!!!
hi everyone I'm new
In regards to the last post I would love to learn more about piracy in this day and age, only because I've watched a bit too much Pirates of the Caribbean- hehe just kidding. I'm considering getting my MS from SUNY Maritime and hence find this topic of great interest. please let me know of any links or sources as were just mentioned. thanks, -Fishfool @ The Reef Tank (http://www.thereeftank.com)

like, where do you get this piracy report?

06-29-2008, 03:20 PM
The International Maritime Bureau publishes a Weekly Piracy Report (http://www.icc-ccs.org/prc/piracyreport.php) online. They also publish an annual roll-up that analyzes trends throughout the year.

06-30-2008, 12:29 AM
That is where I get it from, and a magazine I get (civvy stuff) rolls it up for me too.

06-30-2008, 03:44 PM
Fishfool, If you have not read it, I highly recommend the book The Outlaw Sea: A World of Freedom, Chaos, and Crime by William Langewiesche.

07-03-2008, 01:58 AM
John McPhee's To Catch a Ship has some good material on pirates as well as shipping and maritime in general. It is somewhat dated, though much of what goes on at sea seems to have gone on forever.

07-11-2008, 02:42 PM
AP, 11 Jul 08: Global Pirate Attacks Rise (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jBC30uQtvFMjkhdRDj_h9OuSk_lwD91RHMJG0)

Pirate attacks worldwide surged 19 percent in the past three months compared to the January-March period, largely due to increased incidents in Somalia and Nigeria, an international maritime agency said Friday.

There were 62 attacks on ships between April and June, up from 52 in the previous quarter, the International Maritime Bureau said in a report (http://www.icc-ccs.org/prc/piracy_rep_app_Quarterly.php) released by its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

"The frequency and level of violence directed at seafarers is cause for alarm. The abduction of crew and the increasing use of automatic weapons remain unacceptable," it said.....

08-20-2010, 07:30 AM
Moderator Adds

I created this new thread, but having copied over eight posts from the thread 'The Gulf of Guinea and West Africa: a new focal point?' so the starting post now appears as Post No.9

My explanation: Piracy off West Africa's has been a problem for many years, for sometime now reporting has shown a growth in attacks and some comparisons have been drawn with Somali piracy - which now appears to have abated (ends).

SWC have touched upon the potential for trouble in West Africa, Guinea and the waters offshore - the Gulf Of Guinea, where there is more piracy than off Somalia and oil shipments go AWOL.

Taken from a commercial offering:

The Gulf of Guinea is staring at a precipice of regional maritime insecurity. The continuing economic, social and political impact is pronounced and will continue unless there is focused investment in both manpower and resources by more capable outside nations or organisations. The loss of $2 billion US to the local annual economy - from offshore oil, fishing, and commercial shipping - is too large a price to pay for a region which is spasmodically emerging from decades of civil war and anarchy.

The region produces 5.4 million barrels of oil per day, and it contains 50.4 billion barrels of proven reserves. Nigeria now supplies 10% of US imported oil and is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. Events in Afghanistan and Somalia illustrate the dangers that come from the nexus between organised crime, terrorism and failed/failing states. While many look to Africa for an African solution to retake control of their seas, they can’t achieve this without timely Western assistance.

Our collective inactivity is the product of a paucity of constabulary platforms and hamstrung political will which fractures any hope of a comprehensive approach to the problem. So perhaps if we were to learn a lesson or two from Somalia and Afghanistan rather than just identify them, shouldn’t our militaries provide a gentle hand on the tiller and guide the people of the Gulf of Guinea towards a more secure and stable future?

Link:http://www.defenceiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=2985&mac=DFIQ_OI_Featured_2010&utm_source=defenceiq.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DefOptIn&utm_content=8/19/10 (http://www.defenceiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=2985&mac=DFIQ_OI_Featured_2010&utm_source=defenceiq.com&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DefOptIn&utm_content=8/19/10)

From my armchair this is an issue far beyond the waters and yet again an implied Western naval deployment. Nor setting up local coastguard etc.

Not to overlook the impact of cocaine trafficking.

08-20-2010, 12:28 PM
"So perhaps if we were to learn a lesson or two from Somalia and Afghanistan rather than just identify them...."

Impact of cocaine trafficking might be degraded if we learned a lesson from LATAM:


11-10-2011, 04:24 PM
Picked up the other day, an IISS Strategic Comment mainly on piracy off Somalia, but has passages on the situation off the West African coast:
Meanwhile, piracy off the West African coast is emerging as a separate threat. Here the modus operandi is quite different. Eight tankers were hijacked – and another 30 attacks thwarted – in the eight months to September 2011.


02-14-2012, 07:11 PM
Violence against shippers new norm off West Africa (http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-02-13/nigeria-pirate-attack/53070492/1)

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) – The waters off West Africa (http://content.usatoday.com/topics/topic/West+Africa)'s coast are now a constant danger for those shipping goods and crude oil in the region, analysts said Tuesday, a day after pirates killed two sailors near Nigeria's coast.

While shootings and stabbings have happened before in the region, Monday's assault was one of the deadliest attacks in waters now considered to be as dangerous as those near Somalia. And such attacks are likely to continue ...

In August, London-based Lloyd's Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.

Pirates in West Africa have been more willing to use violence in their robberies, as they target the cargo, not the crew for kidnapping like off Somalia. Analysts say many of the pirates come from Nigeria, where corrupt law enforcement allows criminality to thrive ...

02-14-2012, 07:28 PM
Anything piracy and more (http://www.icc-ccs.org/piracy-reporting-centre/live-piracy-report)

13.02.2012: 0250 UTC: Posn: 04:43N - 003:44E, Around 110nm south of Lagos, Nigeria.
Armed pirates chased and fired upon a drifting bulk carrier. Vessel raised alarm and headed towards Lagos. All crew except the bridge team took shelter in the citadel. Due to the continuous firing the Captain and the C/E were shot. The IMB Piracy Reporting Center immediately informed the Nigerian authorities who sent out a rescue team. Due to rough seas the Nigerian naval team could not reach the location. A French Warship in the area which received the warning broadcast went to the aid of the distress vessel and despatched a helicopter. A boarding team boarded the vessel and escorted the vessel to Lagos port. The vessel is presently at Inner anchorage Lagos port. The authorities boarded the vessel and a medical team gave medical assistance to the crew. Later all crew members and the two bodies were taken ashore.

Seems there's more (http://www.icc-ccs.org/news) to Nigeria than just pirates.

03-30-2012, 03:47 PM
From NATO CIMIC's offering:
Lloyd’s List reports that on 23 March, the Liberia-flagged chemical and oil tanker Zouzou was hijacked in the Gulf of Guinea by approximately 12 armed pirates. The pirates used a mothership and skiffs for the attack, which is a new tactic that is usually used by Somali pirates. The attackers have since left the vessel, after stealing some items from the ship, leaving the tanker’s crew unharmed.

This Day, a Nigerian news source, reports that, within the past two
months, 22 armed attacks were carried out on ships in the Bight of Benin.
Last year the region reported 58 pirate attacks...

According to IMBs Piracy reporting Centre (PRC) a chemical tanker was attacked by armed pirates on 22 March about 100 nm off Bonny Island, Nigeria. The master triggered the Ship Security Alert System (SSAS) and the crew retreated to the citadel. A nearby US warship responded to the alert. The pirates aborted the attack and the tanker’s crew is safe.

Link:https://www.cimicweb.org/Pages/v6/welcome.html and look for the Mediterranean Basin Review (OK stretching geography a wee bit to the Gulf of Guinea).

Slightly puzzled that a US warship was in the vicinity, just like a French warship in Stan's post. The wonders of navigation in such waters.

02-04-2013, 03:35 PM
Just an update:
A French-owned Luxembourg-flagged tanker with 17 crew members that went missing off Ivory Coast at the weekend is believed to have been hijacked by Nigerian pirates, the International Maritime Bureau said on Monday.

Note the hub is Nigeria and the commodity sought oil products.


Bill Moore
05-19-2013, 03:34 AM
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/crime-at-sea--the-world-s-most-dangerous-waters-171430018.html;_ylt=AsE9USdvFkIdVaz4BY32OhWiuYdG;_ ylu=X3oDMTQ4bWk5cGo2BG1pdANDTkJDIFRvcCBTdG9yaWVzBH BrZwMzYjExYjU0OS1kOGYzLTNiMDEtOWExMi00ZmQ0MmViZTc1 MGYEcG9zAzUEc2VjA01lZGlhQkxpc3RNaXhlZExQQ0FUZW1wBH ZlcgM3MDUyZDg4Mi1iZjJjLTExZTItYmZjNi0xMTkzOWZlZWNh Yjg-;_ylg=X3oDMTFkcW51ZGliBGludGwDdXMEbGFuZwNlbi11cwRw c3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANob21lBHB0A3BtaA--;_ylv=3

I found it interesting that the most active area for piracy now is off the Indonesian coast again. Navy seems to be doing a good job off the Horn of Africa.

Indonesia’s 17,500 islands and their surrounding waters now take the title as the world’s most heavily pirated.

Pirates arm themselves no matter where on the globe they operate, but perhaps no pirates on earth arm themselves with such high-caliber weapons as the pirates in Nigeria have over the last year.

05-19-2013, 12:19 PM
The figures collected by the IMB (international Maritime Bureau), are a vital barometer of pirate activity and there is a good graphic:
Worldwide Incidents 2013: 100 reported incidents including four hijackings.

Somali related incidents 2013: Six reported incidents including one hijacking.

Current crew / vessels held by Somali pirates: hostages - 71 / vessels - 5

Nigeria related incidents 2013: 19 reported incidents including one hijacking.


05-29-2013, 02:19 PM
A Reuters report on West African piracy, which lays much of the blame on Nigerian gangs, as illustrated by this passage:
Nigerian pirates can make in 10 days what Somalis make in 10 months....It's easier to offload oil to the local black market than negotiate ransom with foreign ship owners.

The usual references to greater regional co-operation, with external (EU) funding for coastguard training. When as a speaker at IISS last week remarked:
The main OCG is the state.

Another contributor pointed to the huge diversion under-way in Nigeria of oil, which can only be explained by systematic and widespread collusion, including purchases by the international oil companies. IIRC 10% of production was missing.

Link To Reuters:http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/29/westafrica-piracy-idUSL6N0BIAJ520130529

Link to IISS talk on West African crime and development:http://www.iiss.org/en/events/events/archive/2013-5126/may-6ac8/assessing-the-impact-of-organised-crime-on-african-development-98fd

10-21-2013, 08:43 AM
Piracy off West Africa's has been a problem for many years, for sometime now reporting has shown a growth in attacks and some comparisons have been drawn with Somali piracy - which now appears to have abated.

There are a number of posts on the West African piracy (WAP) theme on another thread, which will be copied over here soon.

Reuters has a short report today that starts with:
Pirate attacks off Nigeria's coast have jumped by a third this year with ships passing through West Africa's Gulf of Guinea, a major commodities hub, increasingly under threat from gangs wanting to snatch cargoes and crews.

Unlike the dangerous waters off Somalia and the Horn of Africa on the east coast of Africa, through which ships now speed with armed guards on board, many vessels have to anchor to do business off West African countries, with little protection.


There is a significant difference IMHO. The West African nation-states may not be very effective at governance, but they know how to make money and how involved are those who are in governance - illustrated by the amount of Nigerian oil that goes AWOL and the drug trade in Guinea-Bissau.

10-21-2013, 09:42 AM
Hat tip to Red Rat for the pointer to this USNI article on the Nigerian Navy:http://blog.usni.org/2013/10/15/nigerias-navy-setting-sail-in-stormy-seas

One hopes this navy has no "Nelson's" aboard who look the other way.

10-21-2013, 11:59 AM
To the extent that piracy in West Africa is driven by Nigeria - it is a very different beast than Somalia.

This is a large scale criminal enterprise, with collusion from senior members of the Military & government. It is more sophisticated than Somalia and the politics behind it is not "open and shut".

These people aren't just taking sailors for ransom - they are also stealing oil.

01-09-2014, 11:15 AM
Instead of traditional piracy this BBC report is about illegal fishing off West Africa; which is not a new problem and came to my notice when I heard a Russian trawler had been detained by Senegal's navy.


05-23-2015, 03:12 PM
The Independent using a consultancy report has six charts that show the emergence of a 'new pirate era':http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/the-new-pirate-era-6-charts-that-reveal-how-piracy-has-changed-and-grown-in-recent-years-10267161.html

The current focal point is, once again, the international waters of the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea, followed by West Africa territorial waters and both share fuel / oil tankers being sought.

Note the plight of seafarers:
there are 38 people currently held hostage around the world....26 seafarers are still held by Somali pirates following the release of four hostages earlier this year; those remaining captives were picked up in March 2012 and their families last heard from them in February 2013.This the main thread on piracy and another for off Somalia: More Piracy Near Somalia (http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?t=5621)

02-17-2016, 10:55 PM
First part

In this series on lawlessness on the high seas, Ian Urbina reveals that crime and violence in international waters often goes unpunished. JULY 25, 2015

03-02-2016, 12:06 PM
A laudatory report on a thwarted act of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, once again hijacking a small oil products tanker, but with a couple of sentences that made me pause:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/26/nigeria-navy-oil-tanker-pirates-us-training-mission

First the context:
One-fifth of all maritime crime in the world is committed in the Gulf of Guinea, but that is only the tip of the iceberg since an estimated two-thirds of piracy acts there are never reported...

After eight hours of talking the Nigerian Navy chose another option:
Never has a west African navy carried out an opposed boarding before....(ah, but)...Six pirates were captured and 18 crew members freed. Several pirates escaped with two crew members who remain hostages...

02-06-2018, 08:33 PM
So, ransom paid or did someone dispatch a mop-up crew?

The crew of an oil tanker that had been hijacked by pirates has regained control of the ship, Anglo-Eastern, a ship management company, said today.
Pirates hijacked the merchant vessel Marine Express, which was carrying about 14,900 tons of gas, last Thursday.
"All crew members are reported to be safe and well and the cargo intact," Anglo-Eastern said. http://abcnews.go.com/International/ship-freed-pirates-off-africa-coast-company/story?id=52873042

As of 0330 hours GMT on Thursday, when she was last in touch, the Express was at an anchorage off the port of Cotonou in the Gulf of Guinea, an area known for a high risk of piracy. She had 22 crewmembers and 13,500 tons of gasoline on board.
If the Express' disappearance is the result of a hijacking, it would be the second in three weeks off Benin. On January 9, U.K. shipowner Union Maritime lost contact with the product tanker Barrett, which was at anchor off Cotonou. The Barrett had been taken by pirates, and her crew were in captivity for six days while a "resolution process" moved forward. The crew and the vessel were eventually released.

Note: for reference, see the locked mega-thread on Somali piracy

03-31-2018, 07:18 PM
This is a long reach as the ship comes from off Somalia:
South Korea has deployed a naval vessel from its regional anti-piracy effort to help in the search after a fishing boat was hijacked by pirates off Ghana, South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.