Introduction to Modern Yacht Piracy

Yacht piracy is a safety problem for cruisers in many parts of the World. Many sailors underestimate the threats of piracy; knowing what pirates are looking for and how to avoid high-risk areas is key to safe sailing. In this article, I try to give an introduction to the problem of modern piracy.

Pirates of the Caribbean, Sir Francis Drake, Parrots and Spanish gold – much of historic piracy has been absorbed by popular culture. Even people with no sailing affiliation have heard more or less romanticised stories of pirates. Arrrgh! All that has little to do with the concept of modern piracy. Among criminal activities that can be called piracy, one can distinguish between two kinds: Commercial or merchant marine piracy on the one hand, and yacht piracy on the other.

Merchant Marine Pirates versus Yacht Pirates

Merchant marine piracy targets large vessels that carry cargo and are operated by a professional crew. Hot-spots of this type of piracy are Southern Asia, Southeast Asia and to a lesser degree South America and Eastern Europe. Yacht piracy on the other hand is more relevant for my readers here on, since it targets smaller vessels such as cruiser yachts of individual sailors. These boats are generally sailed by small crews or few individuals and easy victims.

The number of yacht piracy incidents is increasing for years now. It is hard to say how many incidents occur every year – most piracy is done in Third World countries and sailors who don’t believe in the local authorities do not report the incidents. The increase in the total number of pirate attacks on cruiser yachts could correlate with the increase in the number of yachts around – as I have stated previously, sailing and cruising is a growing passion.

Serious estimates give around 50 pirate attacks on cruisers every year, of which only few are reported. Merchant marine pirates and yacht pirates come with different backgrounds. The former ones are often professional pirates, whereas their colleagues targeting yachts often act because they see an opportunity for easy money. Geographically, the hot spots for yacht piracy don’t overlap tremendously, either.

High-risk Areas of Yacht Piracy

Most yacht piracy attacks occur in the Chinese Sea, Southeast Asia (mostly the Philippines), West and East Africa, South America and certain destinations of the Caribbean. Pirates that become active offshore (30 nautical miles off the coast, to be precise) can be prosecuted by marines of any nation. Most attacks on yachts, however, occur in coastal regions or whilst a vessel is anchoring.

The main reason for that is, that many pirates are economically poor locals from coastal areas that commit the crimes if they get an opportunity. The growing economic problems and social disparities in many developing countries do not help to improve the situation. Cruisers are very mobile and can access areas that “normal” tourists never get to. This can create situations with unpredictable dangers.

No matter where you sail, you should always prepare yourself well. Read piracy reports online, get information from local sailing organisations and request safety information from your consulate or embassy. Most organisations that fight piracy do that only with piracy targeting merchant marine – this includes efforts by the International Maritime Bureau and the International Chamber of Commerce. As an individual cruiser, you should not expect much help from any of these organisations.

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Further Reading

Back to "vacation"

How to protect your Yacht from Thieves

Noonsite: Up-to-date information on Yacht Piracy

General Information on Yacht Piracy

Wikipedia on Piracy in General