Facts, Figures, Trends: the Contemporary Maritime Piracy Database 2001-2010

By Anamika Twyman-Ghoshal

The lack of reliable piracy data has been identified as one of the main obstacles to contemporary maritime piracy research (Worrall, 2000; Ong-Webb, 2007). Research to date has focused on selected types of piracy or on particular geographical regions where piracy occurs, usually relying on single sources of data or being wholly anecdotal. Despite major shifts in the nature of contemporary piracy, little research has been produced that examines global trends in piracy. In response to this gap, I have created the Contemporary Maritime Piracy Database (CMPD). The CMPD combines the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reports and the United States National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA) anti-shipping activity messages in an effort to provide a more comprehensive assessment of the nature and trends of contemporary piracy. I have already introduced the CMPD in two articles in the British Journal of Criminology (Twyman-Ghoshal & Pierce 2014) and in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice (Twyman-Ghoshal 2014).

The IMB remains the primary source of information on piracy attacks globally, providing a total of 74.5 percent of information for the CMPD. The NGIA adds a good amount to this dataset (over 25 percent), creating a more comprehensive dataset than has been available to date. The process of integrating these two data sources was made easier by the fact that their reports provide comparable information. Together, the new dataset (CMPD) includes all non-duplicated reported incidents of piracy between 2001 and 2010. Within this dataset, each report was coded across nine major dimensions, which include: 1) geographic location (i.e., attack location and source of attack); 2) date of attack; 3) location at sea (e.g., high seas, coastal waters, in harbor); 4) time of attack; 5) target vessel characteristics; 6) pirate characteristics; 7) pirate actions; 8) pirate motivation; and 9) responses to piracy.

The selection of coded variables was driven by the availability of information in the case descriptions. The dimensions also reflect suggestions made by Robert Beckman (2002:320) to categorize treatment of crew, the types of weapons employed and the nature of the property stolen in order to better understand the level of seriousness of an attack. Where available, the newly coded dataset also includes information on the level of damage to the ship, the evasion tactics used by the victim vessel, and whether the attack was reported to any authorities.

To date the CMPD includes data between 2001 and 2010, a time period which exhibits a significant shift in the location of piratical attack. Moreover, the total number of piratical incidents reported by the IMB for the study period grew by nearly 62 percent compared to the previous ten-year period.  Although better reporting practices may explain some of this increase, this is unlikely to explain the bulk of it.

Analysis of the CMPD finds that during the ten year study period piracy incidents occurred in 90 countries across the globe. The two continents that suffered the highest number of incidents were Asia and Africa, together accounting for 87 percent of piracy from 2001 to 2010. Over the 2001 to 2010 period nearly 85 percent of pirate incidents worldwide was accounted for by fifteen countries: Indonesia (24.8%), Somalia (24.2%), Nigeria (8.3%), Bangladesh (7.5%), India (3.8%), Malaysia (2.3%), Vietnam (2.3%), Philippines (2.0%), Peru (1.7%), Venezuela (1.7%), Tanzania (1.6%), Brazil (1.4%), Colombia (1.0%), Ghana (0.9%), and Cameroon (0.9%). The five highest piracy incident countries (HPIC) in this decade (Indonesia, Somalia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and India) account for nearly 70 percent of pirate incidents. The two countries with the highest number of piracy incidents, Indonesia and Somalia, account for 49 percent of all incidents worldwide.

Analyzing the aggregated piracy data suggests several trends: piracy is now carried out further at sea; pirates targets vessels that are in motion; piracy is as likely to be carried out during the day as at night; and pirates are better armed and more violent. However, the data shows that overall the number of successful boardings has declined in the past few years.

When piracy trends are analyzed across the five highest piracy incident countries (HPIC), some notable differences become apparent. Contemporary forms of piracy in most parts of the world (the aggregate of non-HPIC countries) are carried out close to shore, on stationary vessels and at night; pirates avoid  interaction with the crew, have a low level or no armaments, and there is a high probability of boarding. In Indonesia, piracy is carried out predominantly in local waters; attacks are as likely for vessels that are stationary as for vessels in motion; attacks usually occur at night; they are more likely to include threats of violence; pirates tend to be armed with low level armaments and the targeted vessel is usually boarded. In contrast, piracy in Somalia occurs during the day, on the high seas and targeted vessels are in motion; piracy is predominantly threatening, and pirates utilize sophisticated weapons; however, the likelihood of boarding is much lower than in other areas (although the boarding success rate of Somalia pirates increased modestly in the last two years of the decade).

Although Somali piracy is more threatening than piracy originating from other countries, it is not the most violent form of piracy. Nigeria had the most violent form of piracy in the study period. In contrast, Indian pirates tend to avoid contact with the crew, rarely carry any type of armament and are motivated by theft from moored ships.

Another aspect that is particular to Somali piracy is the motivation for the attack. Whereas the majority of pirate attacks is motivated by theft of ship equipment, crew belongings and to a lesser extent cargo, piracy in Somalia is motivated by ransoms in exchange for the release of a seized vessel. Although such incidents have occurred in other parts of the world, the scale of the problem in Somalia is unprecedented. Furthermore, countries such as Indonesia and Nigeria, where vessel seizures occur, also exhibit other forms of piracy that are theft motivated.  In Somalia, piracy consists primarily of seizures for ransom.

Finally, targeted vessels which used at least four evasion measures have consistently been able to evade boarding by pirates. However, even with the industry drafted Best Management Practices (BMP4), which strongly encourages the use of non-lethal evasion measures, it is clear that merchant vessels are not using sufficient evasion measures. In fact, in nearly half of the cases attributed to Somali pirates, the vessels do not report using any evasion tactics.

More recently, we have seen that piracy emerging from Somalia has declined dramatically. In 2012 the IMB reported that there were 75 attempted and actual piracy attacks by Somali pirate (IMB 2012) and 15 in 2013 (IMB 2014). Recent reports suggest that West African piracy now affects an increasing number of seafarers: “periods of captivity are much shorter in the Gulf of Guinea region, [but] there are more seafarers subject to close, and often violent, contact with pirates than off Somalia” (Hurlburt et al. 2012: viii).

The CMPD has been a valuable tool for uncovering the nature and trends in the past decade, demonstrating that the dominant form of piracy changed in the study decade. Throughout history we have seen that piracy morphs over time and space. The previous decade saw overt forms of state piracy (Abhyankar 2006) and phantom ship piracy (Abhyankar 1997); the last decade showed no incidents of either of these types of piracy. Without a consistent, empirical data collection effort and analysis infrastructure, the subtle changes of piracy tactics, nature, and trends remain a best guess.  Only with such information is it possible to understand the contexts for the different forms of piracy, which in turn provide for evidence-based policy formulation and targeted allocation of resources.

Literature and Further Reading

Abhyankar, Jayant. 1997. “Phantom Ships”. In E. Ellen (ed.), Shipping at Risk (58-74). Paris: ICC Publishing.

Abhyankar, Jayant. 2006. “Piracy, Armed Robbery and Terrorism at Sea: A Global and Regional Outlook”. In G. Ong-Webb (Ed.), Piracy, Maritime Terrorism and Securing the Malacca Straits (1-22). Singapore: ISEAS Publishing.

Beckman, Robert C. 2002. “Combating piracy and armed robbery against ships in Southeast Asia: The way forward”. Ocean Development & International Law, 33, 317-341.

Hurlburt, Katja & D. Conor Seyle, Cyrus Mody, Roy Paul Jon Bellish and Bridget Janokovsky. 2012. “The Human Cost of Maritime Piracy 2012”. Oceans Beyond Piracy Working Paper. One Earth Future Foundation.

IMB Regional Piracy Center. 2012. IMB reports drop in Somali piracy, but warns against complacency. 2012, October 22, retrieved from ICC Commercial Crime Services Web site. http://www.icc-ccs.org/news/811-imb-reports-drop-in-somali-piracy-but-warns-against-complacency.

IMB Regional Piracy Center. 2014. January 15. Somali pirate clampdown caused drop in global piracy, IMB reveals, 2014, January 15, retrieved from ICC Commercial Crime Services Web site: http://www.icc-ccs.org/news/904-somali-pirate-clampdown-caused-drop-in-global-piracy-imb-reveals.

Ong-Webb, Graham Gerard. 2007. Piracy in maritime Asia: Current trends. In Peter Lehr (ed.), Violence at Sea: Piracy In the Age of Global Terrorism (37-94). London: Routledge.

Twyman-Ghoshal, Anamika. 2014. Contemporary piracy research in criminology: A review essay with directions for future research. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 38 (3), 281-303.

Twyman-Ghoshal, Anamika & Glenn Pierce. 2014. The Changing Nature of Contemporary Maritime Piracy: Results from the Contemporary Maritime Piracy Database 2001-2010. British Journal of Criminology. Advance online publication.

Worrall, John L. 2000. The routine activities of maritime piracy. Security Journal, 13, 35-52.

About the Author

Dr. Anamika Twyman-Ghoshal is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Stonehill College in Easton, MA. Dr. Twyman-Ghoshal’s main research interests include governance, globalization and how these affect transnational crime, white collar crime, terrorism and maritime piracy. She holds a Master’s degree in International Business Law from Queen Mary College, University of London and a Ph.D. from Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Her doctoral research created one of the most comprehensive contemporary maritime piracy databases available and focused on understanding the sociological context for maritime piracy in Somalia. Prior to joining academia, Dr. Twyman-Ghoshal worked for the International Maritime Bureau in London investigating international shipping, trade and finance fraud as well as maritime piracy.  She is fluent in English, German, Polish, French and conversational Bengali.

Anamika can be reached via e-mail: atwymanghoshal@stonehill.edu


This commentary was originally published on Piracy Studies