Posted by: Chuck | April 14, 2013

News from the Big House – Piracy on the high seas


A modern dhow suspected of piracy

A modern dhow suspected of piracy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good day friends from the Big House in Danao, I hope this day has been a peaceful day to you. Yesterday evening we had some Beng’s relatives come by for a short visit; they stopped to spend the night before catching the ferry this morning to Camotes Island. Her cousin Tito a sea going mariner who is originally from Camotes visited for a while with me and we discussed the trouble faced on the high seas with today’s pirates. He informed me the worst maritime sea lane that he had experienced was in the dangerous Malacca Straits.

Piracy has been long plagued the waters of Southeast Asia. During the 19th century the Malacca Straits was already an important waterway for ships traveling from India and the West to China. Today, a third of the world’s trade passes through the narrow sea channel bordering Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The region and the surrounding seas of the Malay Archipelago are dotted with thousands of islets, narrow straits and sheltered rivers, all of which make perfect hideaways. This geographical fact, along with other factors, favored the rise of piracy: the geography of the Malay Archipelago makes effective sea patrol a daunting, if not impossible, task. Pirate crews included the local Malay aborigines, or the Lanuns, a seafaring people. They hail from surrounding coastal villages in what make up the territories of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines today. There were also substantial numbers of Chinese pirates from the north, usually outcasts from the mainstream Chinese society of the old Ching Dynasty, who found a niche for themselves by preying on trading ships plying the South China Sea in their seafaring junks.


Piracy is regarded among Southeast Asian rural societies as a form of social mobility, as it brought easy wealth to its culprit also entailed bravery, tactical and navigational skills as essential virtues. This brought about an entire sub-class or caste in Southeast Asia’s rural social structure.

Modern piracy is a form of organized crime on the high seas. Today’s pirates use light arms such as assault rifles, pistols or hand-held rocket launchers. Their vessels generally do not have guns of a large caliber capable of engaging in naval combat. In fact, pirate ships masquerade as ships performing a variety of other innocent roles, including cargo transport or fishing, in order to escape suspicion from maritime authorities. In Southeast Asia, measures for monitoring ships’ seaworthiness remain relatively inadequate. Drowning and losses of sailors at sea are fairly common, and many incidents go unreported. This is particularly so for unregistered, privately owned vessels, which may be used for piracy. Pirate vessels, however, may have their shipboard engines augmented for the optimum speed achievable for their class of ship, to enable them to pursue a target or flee from pursuers. In the case of smaller vessels, sometimes ship stability and necessary safety measures such as ballast are sacrificed for the acquisition of higher speeds. A typical pirate operation would involve the pirate ship intercepting or catching up with its designated target ship; its crew would then openly display their light arms and threaten to open fire unless the target ship halts and allows boarding parties.

Today’s merchant ships, commercial shipping vessels, perform a variety of functions that represent international maritime trade. The most common functions of modern shipping include the transport of cargo, passengers or supplies to other ships. Two factors, time and cost, determine the dynamics of commercial shipping and influence the routes from one destination to the next. Time especially is greatly important in directly affecting global commerce in other industrial or commercial sectors of the economy. That is why there has been so much concern over sweeping maritime security checks to be carried out in compliance with the anti-terror standards set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Such s

Painting by Grigory Gagarin. Azov Cossacks fig...

Painting by Grigory Gagarin. Azov Cossacks fighting Turkish corsairs (pirates) in the Black Sea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ecurity measures, while helping to deal with the piracy problem, increase transport times and costs. In particular, the delay for security checks for oil tankers may result in further skyrocketing of the price of petroleum. Commercial ships, therefore, spend as little time as possible out at sea, taking the shortest and most direct routes to their destinations.

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