2010 — a record year for Somali pirates

somali piratesFor all the “extremes” of the natural world in 2010 – record-setting rainfalls, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions – man managed to rack up some big numbers too.

Particularly those persistent Somali pirates who picked up the pace on the Indian Ocean, ramping up attacks on cargo boats, cruise ships and private yachts. According to an end of the year report by the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, there were more pirate attacks than ever, despite an ever-bigger presence of international navies.

Many thought that when snipers aboard the “USS Bainbridge” shot and killed three Somali kidnappers holding an American cargo boat captain hostage in 2009 that piracy would slow. Quite the opposite.

Turns out that in 2010 those khat-stoked, RPG-armed pirates in their wooden skiffs managed to outrun and out-maneuver some of the world’s most powerful navies in record numbers, attacking 445 ships and taking nearly 1,200 people hostage.

Already in this New Year, rather than shrink in the face of increased threats from authorities, the pirates have grown even bolder and are traveling even further from home. A week ago they went so far as to attempt to chase down a British cruise ship – the 348-passenger “Spirit of Adventure” – traveling from Madagascar to Zanzibar.While his black-tied passengers were sitting down to dinner Captain Frank Allica spied a speedboat in pursuit and floored the 9,570-ton ship in an effort to outrun what he knew were pirates. They were one hundred miles off the coast of Africa.

The ship’s guests and 200-crew members were ordered below decks, told to sit on the floor and keep doors barricaded as the speedboat pulled alongside.

(The story makes me wonder what those particular pirates were smoking. Even if they caught up with the ship and boarded it, loaded down as it were with more than 500 passengers and crew, what exactly did they think they would do with them all? Take them hostage??)

When the captain was successful at outrunning the pirates, guests were welcomed back to the dining room, their soup reheated. At breakfast the next morning the captain was given a standing ovation.

The pirate’s success in recent years has had impacts on both the cruise and cargo ship businesses.

Several cruise companies have quit the Indian Ocean completely, including Seabourn – which canceled 15 cruises in 2010 and 2011 — and Star Clippers. Several others – MSC Cruises, Fred Olsen and Hapag Lloyd – have changed itineraries to keep their ships as far away from potential run-ins as possible.

At the same time the cost of kidnap and ransom insurance has gone up for all ships, as have additional security costs, including hiring armed guards and, for some, wrapping ships with razor wire, grease and broken glass to deter potential boardings.

Read more from Jon Bowermaster’s Adventures here.