Kontakt Flappe öffnen
This danger is anything but “romantic”

Pirates – danger lurking on the high seas

The word piracy usually conjures up thoughts of legendary pirate tales and exciting films set on tropical islands and the high seas. But anyone who believes that the threat of piracy has died out would be gravely mistaken. Pirates still pose a not insignificant danger to seafaring and to the international transport of goods.

What does piracy mean today?

Attacks of piracy against transport ships are a regular occurrence. These are crimes committed on the high seas or in regions not covered by national laws. The causes are complex but include insufficient economic or financial prospects, weak political leadership in some countries and environmental damage along with the ensuing consequences. For example, the situation off the coast of Somalia did not worsen after the collapse of the national coast guard during the country’s civil war. It was when the local fishermen were deprived of their livelihood that they turned to piracy. The reason: international fishing fleets almost completely depleted the fish stocks off the coast.

The most popular targets of modern pirates are merchant ships and bulk freighters. But the criminals have more in mind than just the transported goods. In many cases, ransom is demanded for the return of the ship and its crew.

Bottleneck Suez

The civil war in Yemen has destabilized another nearby region along one of the most important sea routes in the world – directly at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea have increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict in late 2023. In the wake of this conflict, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have repeatedly focused their attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden on merchant shipping – including capturing ships, some even boarding them by helicopter.

Meanwhile, commercial shipping is avoiding the Red Sea and major shipping lines have officially announced “Force Majeure”, halting their sailings through the Bab el Mandeb Strait and diverting vessels from the Suez Canal to around the Cape of Good Hope.

These disruptions have increased transit times by a minimum of 10 days from Asia to Europe and approximately 15-20 days from Europe to Asia, which translates into higher rates and additional surcharges.

Corsairs off Guinea

The Gulf of Guinea, especially the waters off Nigeria and the Niger Delta, is considered a major piracy hotspot today. In the year 2019 alone, the number of pirate attacks on merchant ships in the Gulf of Guinea increased to 64. The aggressiveness of the pirates is particularly shocking, and many of the attacks have resulted in fatalities. This makes the region the most dangerous of all waters today. Cases of crew abductions and hostage-taking have grown more common here as well, following attacks by heavily armed criminals in highly maneuverable speedboats.

In the meantime, it was possible to establish an effective security response and countermeasures similar to the international task force in Somalia. In addition, the implementation of special measures by carriers, such as deploying armed security teams, has also proved helpful. Experience has shown that if a ship defends itself, pirates usually abandon a risky boarding action. The Gulf of Guinea is now still considered a dangerous place, but with “only” 22 attacks in 2023, the situation is currently considered somewhat less tense.

International policies to combat piracy

With 120 attacks, 2023 saw a slight increase compared to the previous year, proving that piracy remains a significant threat. However, the number of incidents has decreased significantly over the past 15 years. The year 2010 was particularly unfortunate, with 445 recorded attacks, the most in any year to date. Authorities were forced to address the ever-increasing threat off the Horn of Africa. In addition to the deployment of international marine combat forces, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), a special body of the United Nations, took further steps to improve the security of ships and shipping. Together with the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC), a number of recommendations and policies were developed for reducing or eliminating the threats against oceangoing traffic. With the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code), which entered into force in July 2004, the IMO is striving to minimize the risks for merchant ships as well as for carriers. The goal is to ensure the highest possible standards for defending against attacks.

More protection through new security measures

According to the ISPS Code, at least one armed officer must be deployed for protection on both merchant and passenger ships in international waters. This officer regularly inspects all security precautions, trains the crew and reports potential dangers. As mentioned above, the deployment of security forces on board is another measure that has proved extremely effective in recent years. Such forces are able to take direct action in the event of an attack, offering immediate protection. Often the pirates do not even carry out their plan once guards on board make their presence known with warning shots.

Significantly higher costs as a result of piracy

No comprehensive analysis of the overall economic consequences arising from piracy has been produced yet. However, consideration of recent years makes it ever clearer that piracy brings high costs for maritime commerce. The increased security standards, the use of armed forces and intensified anti-piracy campaigns have resulted in considerably higher expenses. In East Africa alone, piracy has run up costs of approximately 1.4 billion US dollars. But the value of the stolen goods and the price for increased insurance protection also give rise to unplanned costs.

In summary, pirates are not just legends from days gone by, they still pose a major and even deadly threat to maritime shipping. Thanks to international cooperation and a wide range of security measures, piracy will hopefully be returned someday to where it belongs: in history books about times long past.

Cargo insurance can help in case of accident

Insure yourself against risks related to transporting cargo and protect your goods with cargo insurance. This covers not only damage/loss with respect to goods (as in accordance with terms of the policy), but is also applicable in cases of “Havarie Grosse”.*
cargo-partner’s freight insurance policies can insure your merchandise for up to 130% of its value and cover additional costs (e.g. carrying costs). Our Sea Cargo team would be happy to provide you with more detailed information.

* If a ship, with its cargo, is in distress at sea or endangered by fire or a lightning strike and is rescued alongside its cargo, then the cost of said rescue of ship and cargo is split proportionally amongst the goods’ owners and the ship’s owner according to the cost of the goods being transported. Even if the goods arrive undamaged.