There are pirates in the modern world


An ancient business

Pirates have existed since the beginning of shipping and sea trade, so for more than 3000 years. "The history of piracy is inextricably linked with trade, war, social and legal history," says Hartmut Roder, the former head of the commercial studies department at the Übersee-Museum in Bremen.

There are different forms of piracy and the most diverse reasons why people become pirates: from the sheer necessity of having to make a living, to organized crime, to the state-licensed piracy of the so-called piracy.

Piracy especially flourished where trade routes lead through straits or between archipelagos - in the North and Baltic Seas as well as in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. At the moment, the regional focus is on the coasts of South America, Africa and Asia.

Pirates in antiquity and the Middle Ages

Pirates have been documented as early as ancient Greek times. The first historical work of all, the books of Herodotus, begin with the description of piracy.

In Roman times in the first century BC - starting from the island-rich area off the Greek and Turkish Mediterranean coasts - piracy spread across the entire Mediterranean. It became a growing threat to trade.

When even the food supply of the Romans was endangered, they started a real war campaign against the pirates in 67 BC. This won pirate war solved the problem for the time being, but the pirates remained a threat.

In the Middle Ages, not only the Vikings, but also Klaus Störtebeker and his team were the horrors of the North and Baltic Seas. From the end of the 11th century, pirates also fought in the "holy war" between Muslims and Christians in the Mediterranean. On both sides there were pirates attacking the enemy's ships.

The heyday of piracy

The heyday of piracy began with the discovery of America: between the 16th and 18th centuries, pirates threatened the trade routes between Europe and the New World, in particular those in the Caribbean and the sea routes to India.

One speaks of the golden age of piracy, especially because many different forms of piracy developed in a relatively short time: from the "ordinary" pirate, the privateer, the state-licensed pirate to the notorious buccaneer.

Eyewitness reports, newspaper articles and trial files date from this period that described real pirates and later turned them into legends: Edward Teach, known as "Blackbeard", was one of them, as was Captain William Kidd. The latter had been sent to the Indian Ocean to hunt pirates, but then found himself guilty of piracy and was later hanged for it.

At that time, legendary fictional pirate characters emerged, such as John Silver, the one-legged pirate penned by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Our current image of the pirate - free of all conventions, who led a sometimes mild, sometimes adventurous pirate life beyond the narrow European society - goes back to this heyday of piracy.

Piracy Today: Raids on Proven Routes

Today's pirates have nothing to do with the positive romantic image of pirates, but they still operate in the same waters - predominantly in straits and in areas rich in islands. The "Piracy Reporting Center", a subsidiary of the International Chamber of Commerce based in Kuala Lumpur, tracks all pirate attacks around the world.

In the piracy report for 2019, 162 pirate attacks were registered worldwide. Indonesia, Vietnam and Nigeria in particular are badly affected areas. The port city of Chittagong in Bangladesh and the Nigerian coastal city of Lagos are considered particularly dangerous places.

In the world's busiest waterway, the almost 900 kilometer long Strait of Malacca in Southeast Asia, the number of raids has fallen sharply since 2005 thanks to constant controls by the coastal states concerned. Nevertheless, ship crews are asked in the annual piracy report to be particularly careful in this area.

Fearful shipowners and corrupt authorities

Simple theft in ports and docks is the mildest form of piracy. Organized gangs usually operate on the high seas: the pirates come at night in speedboats and heavily armed, empty ships, and then often set them on fire, kidnap the crew members or even kill them.

Often the pirates also send the crew off board and hijack the ship in order to then use it for illegal purposes under a false name. In professional circles this is called "shipjacking". Piracy is the maritime branch of organized crime. The annual damage is estimated at $ 3 billion.

Although most pirate attacks are not committed on the high seas, but on the coast or even in the harbor, it is difficult to arrest pirates. There are various reasons for this: On the one hand, many shipping companies do not even report the robberies - for fear of rising insurance sums or the loss of orders. On the other hand, the responsible authorities off whose coast the attacks are registered are often corrupt.