Should we (really) be afraid of pirates?

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We thought that they had gone forever, only surviving in 19th century history books, or in literature or the cinema. Unfortunately, the reality was always less romantic, and piracy, which has been around as long as we’ve been sailing, has never really disappeared. And in fact, it has even picked up in recent years, with “crises in neighboring countries spreading out onto the seas”, according to Philippe Hrodej, a lecturer in modern history at the University of Bretagne Sud, in France. Initially it was Somali fishermen who, with no resources and stuck in grinding poverty decided to take advantage of any passing rich pickings that were accessible from their coast with an outboard motor. There is particularly dense traffic in that area, in both directions, as the Gulf of Aden is pretty much the only route between Asia and Europe and the Suez Canal. It’s a particularly important route for merchant ships, but also for leisure sailors, heading from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean’s paradise islands. Just think, it’s 4,400 nautical miles when passing through the Red Sea (a diver’s paradise) as against 8,500 miles when passing via South Africa, the Mozambique Channel and its strong currents, Cape Aghulas and the Cape of Good Hope with its legendary storms and the South Atlantic with its doldrums and unpredictable winds.

An extra 4,000 to 6,000 miles for a circumnavigation

And that’s just taking the most direct route, without the unmissable trip via Brazil and The Azores when wind is our mode of transport. From the late 90s, the crews of merchant ships, container ships and leisure boats began to be attacked, robbed, held ransom or worse when things turned really nasty, as they did for the catamaran Tribal-Kat off the Horn of Africa in 2011, between Djibouti to the North West and an ever growing zone off the Somalian Coast. We might think that our multihulls are pretty rapid, but they are in fact easy targets and really quite slow compared to lighter craft with powerful engines. Our boats are not easily maneuverable, are quite low in the water, and therefore easy to board. They are also beacons of wealth compared to the countries which they are sailing by. Certain items are particularly prized: cash; jewelry; personal effects (computers, telephones, tablets, cameras and video cameras…) and credit cards and passports which can have a high resale value once back on land. This economic “model” is also flourishing in other lawless areas, most notably around the Straits of Malacca, the South China Sea and in the Gulf of Guinea between Liberia and Angola. The IMB calculates that the number of attacks tripled between 1993 and 2003. The American research institute, The Rand Corporation’s numbers are even more alarming, increasing ten-fold between 1994-1999 and 2000-2006.

Piracy Risk: Is it insured or not?

Thankfully, on top of the development of private protection services, in 2008 the EU, mandated by the UN sent half a dozen naval ships to ...

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