Ahoy, matey! This Thursday, May 24 will see the U.S. release of a brand new chapter in the adventures of Jack Sparrow in The Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. While fans across the globe are warming their hands in anticipation, and studios are counting the dollar signs, we decided to put fiction aside and find out where the real life, modern pirates are still hanging out these days.
The search takes us from the Bay of Bengal to the treacherous waters off the coast of Somalia — from the Nigerian Delta to the Strait of Malacca, where grenade launching pirates cruise around in speed boats, stealing oil and robbing cruise ships. Where are the hot-spots? What’s really the most dangerous shipping port in the world? No offense, Jack, but it’s time to find out where the real life pirates hang out.
Somalia is a hotbed for modern day piracy, and the BBC calls the Indian Ocean waters off the coast of this African nation the “most dangerous for pirate activities in the world.” One thing is for sure: they aren’t smart. As recent as 2006, a group of grenade-launching pirates attacked two U.S. Navy warships 25 miles from the coast of Somalia. No sailors were injured, though three pirates were critically wounded when the U.S. Navy returned fire, and one was kindly brought aboard the warship and treated for his injuries. Pirates in the region have also made it a habit of intercepting ships carrying relief aid headed for Somalia — taking away food and supplies meant to reach millions — and hijacking cruise ships.
The Strait of Malacca is a lucrative area for pirates, with over a quarter of the world’s trade passing through this thin strip of sea between Indonesia and Malaysia. In April of 1999, the Valiant Carrier, a fuel tanker from Cyprus, was attacked by Molotov cocktail-tossing pirates who boarded the ship and stabbed most of the crew, including a 7-month-old baby. Fortunately, piracy in the Strait of Malacca has been decreasing lately due to “co-ordinated naval patrols between Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia,” with reported incidents dropping 25% from 2005 to 2006.
Even though the numbers for piracy are declining, there’s one area that incidents are growing: Bangladesh. In 2006 they recorded a staggering 33 incidents (22 successful, 11 attempted) making Chittagong the “world’s most dangerous port.” There have been 47 reports since January of 2006 alone. In 2003, pirates killed 14 fishermen in the Bay of Bengal waters outside of Chittagong, stealing $50,000 USD worth of fish and further making this dangerous port a pivotal area for piracy. Take this for example, from OpinionAsia: “In 2004, Bangladesh Police found the bodies of 16 fishermen stuffed in the ice chamber of their boat F.B Kausara.” Scary indeed.
There’s another African country where piracy is still rampant: Nigeria, and specifically the Nigerian Delta, which ranked 3rd in number of attacks behind Indonesia and the Strait of Malacca. According to IRIN News, “Gangs, armed with automatic rifles and increasingly with rocket-propelled grenades, cruise along in speedboats and barges, finding cover in the maze of creeks and rivers intertwined with mangrove swamps that make up the delta where the River Niger empties into the Atlantic Ocean.” Reports estimate that at least 10 percent of Nigeria’s oil output — over 100,000 barrels — is stolen every day in these waters. This amounts to “US $1.5 million [per day] and would buy enough weapons to sustain a force of 1,500 youths for two months,” according to the same article by IRIN. Wow.
Last but certainly not least, the waters surrounding Indonesia are what many call the world’s most pirate-infested, “whose underpaid coast guards are suspected of sharing the spoils with modern-day Bluebeards,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. The International Maritime Bureau warned that Indonesia was “by far the greatest piracy risk,” with the country’s waters harboring “more incidents than the next three [most dangerous] countries combined.”