How Piracy Has Changed

Published on June 23rd, 2015

by Jennifer Forbes, Towergate Insurance
For as long as explorers and merchants have gone to sea, pirates have threatened. Documents from Ancient Greece report piracy as early as the 4th Century BC when shipments of grain and olive oil were targeted by maritime thieves. Ever since, piracy, which likely has its roots in even earlier seafaring civilizations, has impacted the trade of nearly every ocean-going nation on Earth.

But while piracy has been a constant threat throughout maritime history, the face of piracy has also been constantly changing. Over time, pirates have been variously motivated by religion, politics, power, and greed. Today, however, pirates can be loosely defined in three groups: the mafia, the kidnappers, and the thieves.

• Mafia pirates in Asia and West Africa hijack huge oil tankers, offload the crude oil for sale on the black market, and then release ship and crew unharmed.
• Somalian kidnappers violently take crews and ships hostage, then demand ransoms for their release.
• Maritime thieves throughout the world quickly board vessels, mug the crew, and collect whatever valuables they can before making quick getaways.

The Three Primary Conditions Necessary for Piracy to Flourish:
1. Favorable maritime geography
– Bottlenecks of slow moving ships in high traffic areas where pirates can blend in easily
– Island chains or jagged coastlines where pirates can surprise boats from behind landmasses
2. Favorable political climate
3. Sanctuaries ashore

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