Thursday, January 11, 2018


Painting of Blackbeard 1922 by Frank E Schoonover (Public Domain) 

By Editor in Chief Johnas Presbyter

Early in my sea going career , about the start of year three I was in the deck department of a Coast Guard cutter making anti piracy patrols. The year was 1966 long before the public became aware of piracy as a 20th century problem. The patrols were called "The Campache Patrols" of the U.S. Coast Guard conducted by ocean going cutters mostly out of Texas ports and directed toward the Bay of Campache off of the Yucatan peninsular. The Vietnam war was on and that conflict dominated American media coverage of naval / military events. Other than the commercial fishermen of Coastal Texas, few Americans outside of the Coast Guard were even aware that piracy drew the attention of any branch of the U.S. military. But for the affected commercial fishermen who were caught by the pirates operating in and near the Bay of Campache it was a serious and deadly problem. Piracy never disappeared in the 20th century despite the common belief that larger' faster, radio, equipped commercial ships had put the practice to rest. That belief would remain the basis of public opinion on the matter until piracy against major ships again began to appear and increase in frequency around the waters of the Strait of Malacca and off of Somalia in the late 1980s and 90s. The truth was that piracy was practiced against yachts, and commercial fishing boats without let up since time out of mind and the 20th century was no exception. So when we learned that The International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IBM) announced recently that annual maritime piracy and armed robbery incidents reached a 22 year low in 2017 we had to take the news with a grain of salt.

 The IMB does a great job of tracking piracy and crime generally against commercial seagoing cargo carriers, tankers, and passenger ships above 1600 gross registered tons. According to the IMB only 180 incidents were reported to it in 2017 compared to the previous low of 188 incidents reported in 1995. According to the IMB  in 2017 136 commercial seagoing vessels were boarded, there were 22 attempted attacks, 16 vessels were fired upon and 6 hijacked. In 15 separate incidents 91 crew members were taken hostage, 75 were kidnapped from their vessels in 13 other incidents, three crew members were killed and six injured.   

 Let's be frank, as Merchant Mariners we find this level of piracy and maritime crime alarming even if it does represent a downturn from recent statistics. The other thing we feel compelled to point out is that there has never been anything as well funded or organized as the IMB for vessels under 1600 gross registered tons. How many tugs, crew boats, offshore service vessels, yachts, and commercial fishing vessels experienced piracy or robbery incidents is not as easy to determine as the IMB's well oiled intelligence system makes it to track depredations on large commercial vessels. We suspect that crime against smaller ocean going vessels has not improved much if at all since 1966. 

We're happy to pass along the word that crime against big ships went down last year, but we still advise extreme caution and use of the best intelligence available to avoid pirate infested waters regardless of the size of your ship when making your voyage plan. If you are shepherding smaller craft you must dig even deeper for piracy intelligence and you should take the time to intelligently plan your voyage dock to dock.

Captain Jack Sparrow is an amusing fictional character. Real pirates yesterday and today are deadly seriously evil and should be avoided and defended against. Good luck out there! To find links to sources of constantly updated information on piracy click on our News Service:

Johnas Presbyter, Master, Pilot
Editor in Chief

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