Piracy reached record levels in 2010

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Pirate hijackings in the Red Sea and nearby waters reached their highest levels ever, the Associated Press reports.

Pirate hijackings worldwide claimed 1,181 hostages and 53 vessels, a rise of ten percent since 2009. Of these, 49 ships were taken by Somali gunmen in the Red Sea or nearby waters in the Indian Ocean. Somali piracy has been the biggest problem area despite an international fleet of warships trying to stop it. Somalis have taken four more ships so far in 2011 and currently hold 31 ships and 713 people captive.

Somali pirates generally use speedboats to come up alongside freighters, tankers, or smaller ships and then threaten to open fire if the captain doesn’t stop. The pirates then board the vessel and radio in a ransom demand that can amount to millions of dollars. Prisoners are generally not hurt, although eight were killed last year. Usually the ransom is paid.

Because naval vessels have been able to stop some attacks near the Somali coast, pirates have moved operations further into the Indian Ocean where they’re harder to catch. Other problem areas include Nigerian, Bangladeshi, and Indonesian waters.

Somali pirates claim they have been forced into piracy because their fishermen have been pushed out of work by illegal fishing by foreign vessels and illegal dumping of toxic waste by big corporations.

If you’re worried about piracy, stay away from the Red Sea area, and check out our handy tips on what to do if pirates board your ship.

[Photo courtesy Mass communication Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky , U.S. Navy.]

Pan Am hijacker caught after 41 years

On November 24th 1968, Luis Armando Soltren and two others, hijacked Pan Am flight 281. Using guns and knives, Soltren and his accomplices forced their way into the cockpit and demanded that the plane land in Cuba.

Of course, back in that era, hijackings were a little more common than they are nowadays, but that does not mean the crime was easily forgotten. For 40 years, Soltren lived in Cuba, away from his wife and two sons. His two partners in crime were arrested back in the mid 70’s, and each served their time.

Soltren decided that being the number one fugitive on the FBI list for 41 years was long enough, and his deteriorating health forced him to surrender and return to the United States. He was accompanied by security personnel, and was arrested when he landed at JFK airport.

He’ll have to answer to a court today, and chances are his old age and poor health won’t get him much leniency in sentencing – he committed a horrible crime, and probably changed the lives of all those involved on his flight. It took a State Department chartered plane to get them back to the US.

AeroMexico plane hijacking resolved peacefully

Shortly after taking off from Cancun on Wednesday, the pilots of AeroMexico flight 737 radioed the control tower to say the plane had been hijacked. The hijacker had showed off a bomb (later found to be fake) and demanded to speak to Mexican President Felipe Calderon. He threatened to blow up the plane, which was carrying over 100 people, and said he needed to warn the President of an impending earthquake.

The hijacker was unable to get into the cockpit, and the plane landed safely in Mexico City, its intended destination. After the plane landed and taxied to a part of the runway designated for emergencies, passengers deplaned, and security forces boarded. They quickly apprehended who they thought were the nine hijackers, but it later became clear that there was only one, Bolivian-born Jose Flores, 44, who told police he was a Protestant Minister and that “it was a divine revelation that made him carry out his actions.” The other suspects, innocent passengers caught up in the confusion, were released.

Most of the passengers had no idea that the hijacking was even taking place until it was over, and no one was injured in the incident. This was Mexico‘s first major hijacking situation since 1972.

[via Washington Post]

New airline idea: goal is to beat the odds

Columnist Jeremy Clarkson, at The Sun, has come up with a brilliant airline concept: take it easy, and play the odds. He laments the fact that it takes “about six years” to check in and considers the security process to be troublesome. They won’t even let you keep your toothpaste!

Of course, we have all this security in place for a reason. There are many threats to safety … and it’s not just terrorism. We’ve had smokers on Saudi flights, and drunk passengers remain a perpetual problem. Yet, what are the odds of being killed by international terrorism? Clarkson puts it at about the same as drowning in a bathtub. Since the 1960s, he continues, eating peanuts and being struck by lightning have proved more lethal. Worldwide, there are approximately 70,000 flights every day, with only 50 or so hijacked in the past 40 years.

With no security, this number is likely to increase. Even if thousands of planes are hijacked a day, he observes, more than 60,000 will land as usual.

This leaves the unfortunate question, though. Mr. Clarkson: are you willing to take those odds? One in seven?

Not me …

Canadian hostages in Jamaican airport

One man with a gun can do a lot of damage. A weapon-wielding nut-job held around 180 hostages on a Canadian plane in Jamaica yesterday. He chose the landing in Jamaica as his time to act. All passengers were eventually released unharmed, but five of the original seven crew members were still held hostage in the CanJet plane at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. (CNN reports that he’s holding six crew members.)

Only one shot has been fired, but nobody was hurt.

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s likely that two of the crew members may be locked up in the cockpit.”

CanJet says in a statement on its website, “A full security operation is underway and CanJet is cooperating fully with the local authorities.”

At approximately 11:30 PM local time yesterday, a man found his way onto chartered Flight 918, thanks to the effectiveness of fake identification cards at the airport’s employee entrance.

The latest development is that police are negotiating with the hostage-taker. He has asked for passage to Cuba.