The Menace of Maritime Piracy and Somali Pirates – Is There a Solution?

Maritime piracy must have been in existence ever since the first ship set its sails on the high seas. Talk about sea pirates to your friends or relatives and the first thing that would come to their minds are the images of Capt. Jack Sparrow and Barbossa from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.

For landlubbers, it’s hard to imagine that today a sea pirate looks no different from any of us. The only difference is that he is better trained, more fearless and perhaps a part of an organized crime or terrorist network. That is what our seafarers have to deal with in today’s world at sea and live in constant fear of getting jacked or looted or even killed by the sea pirates when sailing on highly dangerous waters infested with such criminals.

Credits: IMO Collection/

In the olden days, merchant ships were well armed and prepared with gallant sailors who carried guns and swords to protect themselves and their precious cargo. In comparison to older ships, today’s maritime fleet is completely unarmed and banks on non-lethal anti-piracy weapons and armed guards to deter the sea pirates or rely on naval vessels or coast guard. Training ashore and onboard deals strictly with methods to protect us from piracy but not to fight pirates. No seafarer in his right mind would want to fight pirates armed or otherwise.

Image Credits:

Since specialized shore-based training is already provided to seaman today for tackling maritime piracy issues, I would focus here more on the growing trends of piracy at sea worldwide and how it is affecting the seamen.

Earlier before socio-economic and political issues redefined the whole meaning of maritime piracy, Piracy from Malacca strait to the West Coast of Africa and even India was confined more with the looting of ship’s property and crew’s personal items. With changing political dynamics from the year 2005 onwards, Somalia grabbed the world centre stage in ship hijackings and the entire Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden became virtually a “No Man’s Land” for seafarers. The plight of captured seamen, their captivity for several months has only increased the presence of Naval Vessels in the area, but still, there seems to be no lasting solution to this problem.

The hijacking of unarmed ships and kidnapping of seafarers near Nigeria and Somalia have become the most lucrative business for political rebels, organized criminals and agencies involved in the negotiation of ransom payments. Also, the South China Sea/Singapore strait has been reporting a considerable number of hijackings of small ships in the past few years.

Is there a Solution to Curb Maritime Piracy? 

If we check the history of piracy around the USA, rarely one will read about cases of ship hijacking. The US coast guard is extremely alert and professional and the coast is well guarded. Can other countries with piracy activities along their coasts boast such a firewall against pirates?

No doubt the coast guard of these countries are alert and their navies are excellent, but the lack of enforcing legislation on lines of USCG 96 hours (NOA) has made coastlines of countries such as India prone to alien vessels.

Many of these countries (e.g. India) do not have Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) and ships report to port authorities only when within VHF range. Comparatively, if the US coast guard does not receive the mandatory 96 hrs.’ notice of arrival a ship cannot dock to any of its port and this system ensures each and every approaching vessel is tracked and monitored. A shipmaster before arriving at US port must declare all particulars of his crew, cargo, past history of ports called by the ship etc. This is a great method to keep illegal activities away from the country.

Shipowners have started installing armed guards, created citadels and barbed wires on board for protection from piracy attacks, but these measures are focused mainly on ships transiting the Gulf of Aden or pirated sensitive areas in the Arabian Sea and Indian ocean. The recent shooting case of an Indian fisherman off the Kerala coast by Italian armed guards has given a good excuse to some ship-owners to remove armed guards quoting this incident and leaving their seafarers totally at the mercy of patrolling Naval vessels.

Several measures are taken by NATO’s Operation ocean shield, the EU’s NAVFOR operation Atlanta and the Combined Task force151 have been helpful to deter the pirates from attacking ships off Somalia up to a certain extent, but not completely. The political situation in Somalia is too complex for any foreign government to interfere and to provide a lasting solution. Considering the easy money that the ransom brings to the pirates, the problem of Somali pirates will not end very soon.

With piracy spreading its influence to many terrorist groups who eye easy money with the kidnapping and seajacking of ships, seafarers are one left at the receiving end and more vulnerable to such piracy attacks.

What Seafarers Should Do To Tackle Maritime Piracy?

Seafarers should demand armed guards in all hostile waters where even the minutest risk exists for militants to settle scores with theirs or any foreign Govt. or to wage war on a foreign nation. For those who do not track IMB piracy reports, the following sea areas are prominent piracy prone areas as declared by IMB PRC and seafarers should be vigilant when passing through them.

1. Bangladesh

2. India

3. Indonesia

4. Singapore strait

5. Malacca strait

6. South china sea

7. Lagos

8. Cotonou(Benin)

9. Lome (Togo)

10. Abidjan(Ivory coast)

11. Gulf of Aden/Red sea

12. Somalia

Seafarers should also read the Best Management Practices – For Protection against Somalia Based Piracy(Version 4 – August 2011)


To Report of Somali piracy incidents only – please contact below immediately

UKMTO: Tel: +971 50 552 3215, Fax: +971 4 306 5710, Email:

MSCHOA: Tel: +44 (0) 1923 958547, +44 (0) 1923 958700

Fax: +44 (0) 1923 958520, Email:

NATO: Tel: +44 (0) 1923 956574, Fax: +44 (0) 1923 956575. Email:

MARLO (Maritime Liaison Office Bahrain)

MARLO (24 Hours):

:  Tel: +973 1785 3925

Tel: +973 3940 1395

IMB PRC: Tel: +60 3 2031 0014, Fax: +60 3 2078 5769, Email: /


To Report incidents on Piracy and Armed Robbery occurring anywhere else in the world please contact the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre:

Ships are advised to maintain strict anti-piracy watches and report all piratical attacks (actual and attempted) and suspicious sightings to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Tel: +60 3 2078 5763 Fax: + 60 3 2078 5769,

E-mail: /

The Centre’s 24 Hours Anti Piracy HELPLINE is: + 60 3 2031 0014

I was recently watching the famous TV-series Homeland where the FBI shoots a terrorist after tracking him right down to the last few meters using their advanced satellite imaging system. Considering there are such advanced technologies available ( I suppose there are) that can be used to keep pirate ships under surveillance, tracked or even destroyed, it is hard to believe why are they still not being used for such a purpose. A naïve seafarer will never understand the political moves of affected business houses who perhaps never want this piracy to end. No one knows what is the real reason behind these activities and what are the probable solutions. Until now the shipping industry is just defending itself from maritime piracy. We wonder when will the responsible people find real solutions to end this and for long seafarers will have to risk their lives at sea?

What do you think is the solution to curb maritime piracy? Let us know in the comments below.

Do you have info to share with us ? Suggest a correction

Subscribe To Our Newsletters

By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy and may receive occasional deal communications; you can unsubscribe anytime.

Web Stories

About Author

Capt.Pankaj Bhargava is a Master Mariner who retired from active sea life in the year 2012. He has sailed on almost all types of vessels in a career spanning more than 35 years. Presently teaching in Maritime institutes and loves writing for e-magazines for the benefit of seafaring community.


  1. I have retired from the U.S. Navy and now I work the ports in Savannah Ga., Jacksonville Fl., and Charleston S.C. I have seen many vessels with barbed wire or a metal cage to protect the accommodation area. This tells me you already expect them to gain access to the main deck. My system says no you can not gain access to my vessel and it does it with out arming anyone and adding addition cost of insurance. My system can be permanently installed or non-permanent design. We also see flaws in the internal design of your non-watertight doors. If these doors are installed where they open into accommodation then you can use pre-cut shoring to keep intruders out. A door that is shored can not be breached even if you cut the hinges and the door knob and lock. The shoring keeps the door in place until taken down. Save money in buying expensive locking items that will not work.

  2. sir, My name is sreyas , i am a BE MARINE ENGINEERING cadet ,now I am in final year,searching for job but there are no vacancies, agents are asking a huge amount ,I am in a critical situation,what can I do sir,please give a solution,is there any open interviews are available?


  4. Am studying Maritime. In my own opinion they should be using GPS to track down these Pirates or there should be armed Navy escorting any Vessel carrying important cargos.

  5. Has anyone ever heard of an armed convoy? Group ships together in a sailing square with high caliber automatic weapons and deck guns fore, aft and amidships. Overlapping fields of fire will prevent pirates from attacking any single ship, unless they are suicidal.

    Ralph Korn, CPCU

  6. Am a student studying maritime safety, i think this piracy of a thing is majorly caused by the high rate of unemployment and poverty. i believe if these two things are solved it will reduce the rate of maritime piracy in the world. As for the seafarers they should demand for armed guards from their employer when sailing in a prone area.

  7. As usual we get stupid comments about how “merchant ships should not be armed” The only solution is to arm them. Two world wars, and history is replete with armed merchant vessels. I am an ex MN deck officer.

  8. In my opinion if a pirate is going to come onto my ship with guns and god knows what else, then i think we should be armed. If some one shoots at me why cant i shoot back???? seems abit unfair.

  9. I am mrrchant officer and all people i am speaking with have very simple solution…training for crew to use weapons in emergency case and weapons locked in safe onboard ready for use…when somebody shooting my direction, i want to protect myself and my friends. At home i am every day on shooting range and it is nothing difficult about safe using of weapon. Why we cannot get some firepower on board to protect our lifes? One time i get answer that seamen get sometimes crazy but when weapons are under lock, my opinion is…give us chance to protect ourselves

  10. If the owner of the first vessel that was hijacked near Somalia had not paid……we would not be in this situation.
    As a retired Master Mariner, I would still be of the same opinion if I had been on board that first hijacked vessel..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *