The Caribbean sea and coast of Latin America have seen a dramatic rise in piracy, as economic woes and corrupt officials plague Venezuela and other countries in the region. Piracy in the Caribbean dates back to the 1600s, and it has even become the inspiration for a Disney franchise. However, such practice is on the rise again, jumping a dramatic 163 percent last year, according to a study conducted by Oceans Beyond Piracy. Earlier this year, in April, a gang of pirates attacked four Guyanese fishing boats. Only five of the 20 crew members of the fishing vessels survived. The others were doused with hot oil, attacked with machetes and thrown overboard.
Piracy is on the rise in other parts of the world. Apart from the well documented problems in West Africa, piracy in Somalia has seen an upturn in recent months with crew members held captive.
However, a new approach to free these captives is starting to have an effect. 54 hostages, held on land by various groups of Somali pirates, have been freed in the last several years. Rather than try to convince unscrupulous vessel owners to fork up big ransoms, the negotiators, mostly working for nothing, first estimated the pirates’ costs, often $100,000-$200,000 for renting a boat and getting weapons and kit, expenses for fuel and food, and payoffs to stop government officials, warlords and village elders from interfering. If that amount or a bit more could be raised from charities and sympathisers, pirates would often accept the deal, once convinced that it was their only hope of satisfying their creditors. It is easier to raise money for “expenses reimbursement” than for the actual ransom, not just because the former is much less.
Though negotiators have generally adopted the expenses approach, it is not a magic wand. Eight seamen are still held in Somalia, all of them Iranian fishermen seized in 2015.
Surely a better approach is to have a strong international naval force present in these areas and stop the piracy in the first place. The world’s seamen need protection.