Pirates on the ‘Postmodern Ocean’ Are Getting More Professional

Piracy and armed robbery at sea are on the rise, according to Deutsche Welle, which noted “the increasing professionalism of the pirates” in a recent report focused on Southeast Asia. “The Outlaw Ocean,” Ian Urbina’s ongoing New York Times series chronicling lawlessness at sea, says many merchant vessels have been hiring private security as protection. William Langewiesche captured pirates’ sophistication in his 2003 story for The Atlantic, “Anarchy at Sea,” part of his coverage that led to his 2004 book The Outlaw Sea:

The pirates involved are ambitious and well organized, and should be distinguished from the larger number of petty opportunists whose presence has always afflicted remote ports and coastlines. The new pirates have emerged on a postmodern ocean where identities have been mixed and blurred, and the rules of nationality have been subverted. Scornful of boundaries, they are organized into multi-ethnic gangs that communicate by satellite and cell phone, and are capable of cynically appraising competing jurisdictions and laws. They choose their targets patiently, and then assemble, strike, and dissipate. They have been known to carry heavy weapons, including shoulder-launched missiles, but they are not determined aggressors, and will back off from stiff resistance, regroup, and find another way. Usually they succeed with only guns and knives. Box cutters would probably serve them just as well. Their goal in general is to hijack entire ships: they kill or maroon the crews, sell the cargoes, and in the most elaborate schemes turn the hijacked vessels into “phantoms,” which pose as legitimate ships, pick up new cargoes, and disappear.

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