Nine masked and armed pirates boarded and hijacked a container ship just off Pulau Aur Island, Malaysia. All crew members were taken hostage and communications equipment was destroyed as the intruders took the ship’s cargo, cash, crew’s personal belongings and cash, portable communications equipment before leaving five days later.
This horrifying incident took place Oct. 10, just the most dangerous and violent of a spate of pirate raids within 10 days.
Piracy is back, and the most notorious modern-day practicioners are the Somalis who have taken to murder, hostage-taking and the theft of super-sized tankers in the Gulf Aden off their long and anarchic coast.
To deal with the problem, a Maritime Security Patrol Area was established and Combined Task Force 150, containing ships from 15 nations, began patrolling a region about the size of Western Europe.
Pirate attacks nevertheless increased from 127 in 2010 to 151 in 2011, but the number of successful raids dropped from 47 to 25. In 2011 pirates gained $146 million, averaging $4.87 million per hijacked ship. By October 2012, pirate ship attacks had dropped to a six-year low of one attack in the third quarter compared to 36 in the same quarter of 2011.
However, recent attacks all across the Indian Ocean region have brought new fears of dangers to the shipping industry. While there have been no new kidnappings, murders or thefts of supertankers, the attacks have been plentiful.
On Oct. 11, two pirate skiffs headed for a tanker about 237 nautical miles east of Hobyo, Somalia. The onboard security team fired warning flares from the ship, but the skiffs continued their pursuit, at which point the crew fired at 400 meters and 250 meters before the skiffs fired back and eventually turned away, giving up the attack.
One of the most notorious attacks occurred in 2009 when the MV Maersk Alabama was held hostage by Somali pirates as they tried to raid the ship’s cargo. The ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, was taken hostage for five days until U.S. warships freed him, primarily with onboard snipers who were able to kill the hostage-takers. The crew was safely recovered and the ship was taken into port.
Phillips wrote an account, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea," which is now a motion picture, “Captain Phillips,” with Tom Hanks in the title role.