Although we often associate pirates with peg legs, eye patches, and three-corner hats of centuries past, piracy remains a modern-day threat to some. Piracy remains incredibly relevant on the high seas, where large cargo vessels and cruise ships have replaced wooden sailboats and skull-and-cross-bones flags.
Indian ocean a hotspot for pirate attacks
If you’ve actually heard of pirates in the last decade or so, chances are it’s because you’ve read about a recent attack off the coast of Somalia. This is a safe bet, considering the majority of pirate-related hijacks occur in the Indian Ocean. In fact, since 2005 Somalian pirates have boarded and/or captured some 200 ships – and this figure doesn’t include the latest stats from 2014. Furthermore, Oceans Beyond Piracy estimates that shippers incur nearly $7 billion a year in delayed shipments and increased costs due to piracy in the region. The United States is certainly not immune to these attacks, although in most cases American crews successfully fend off the pirates (especially when the culprits start firing at a U.S. Navy Ship – yes, this has happened!).
Crewmembers, cargo, and wealthy yacht owners are all targets
For the most part, pirates focus their attention on cargo ships, fishing vessels, and tankers, hoping to find valuable items on board and hold them for ransom. They might even hold crewmembers hostage if they think they can get money in exchange for death threats. This has even led some pirates to attack cruise ships, although fortunately their ambitious plans to somehow capture and silence 400+ passengers rarely pan out. Pirates tend to log the highest success rate when they turn their sights on smaller yachts and luxury boats with only a few passengers. These boaters are often less prepared to fend off violent attacks, as they only planned to casually sail the coastline while sun bathing and drinking champagne. They pay the ransom, and the pirates typically release them.
That being said, those who operate larger vessels, especially those carrying a significant amount of cargo, shouldn’t run the risk of setting sail without a strategy in place. Just two or three pirates could easily overpower the resistance of a disorganized crew – and certainly ships without quick access to military backup. When creating a contingency plan, a few take the popular Boy Scout motto “always be prepared” to a new level. The Royal Danish Navy is perhaps the best example, assembling their elite commando “Frogman Corp” unit each year to prepare for sophisticated pirate attacks.
“Frogmen” to the rescue
The group of 30 or so soldiers runs elaborate simulations in the Baltic Sea, where admittedly piracy has been extinct for decades. Nonetheless, with the help of helicopters, paramedics, and actor pirates, the Danes’ best-of-the-best practice quick maneuvers in a surprisingly realistic setting. After completing their training, these troops serve as part of an international task force in the Gulf of Aden, running actual anti-piracy missions and training other units.
But that’s not all. This impressive Frogman model represents just one segment of a much larger effort. On a semi-annual basis, 1,300 professional soldiers from seven participating nations come together in a multinational exercise dubbed “Night Hawk.” Reserved for elite units, the event helps reinforce the persistent threat of piracy and reminds governments and private corporations alike that it never hurts to have a strategy in place. Because at the end of the day, whether you’re dealing with Captain Hook, the Dread Pirate Roberts, or a Somalian with a machine gun, chances are your peaceful negotiation skills won’t get you very far.
Video credit: Royal Danish Navy