Buccaneer Bonanza: Somali Pirates Target Cruise Ships After Banner Year

A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon writes about all things ocean.

For all the “extremes” of the natural world in 2010—record-setting rainfalls, droughts, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions—humans racked up some big numbers too, in particular those persistent Somali pirates.

Africa's most ambitious maritime marauders ramped up attacks in the Indian Ocean on cargo boats, cruise ships and private yachts. According to an end-of-year roundup by the Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau, 2010 saw more pirate attacks than ever, despite an ever-bigger presence of international navies.

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&39;Blackbeard, Red Beard, Captain Kidd: All of you come out of there with your hands in the air.&39; (Photo: Ho New/Reuters)

When snipers aboard the USS Bainbridge shot and killed three Somali kidnappers holding an American cargo boat captain hostage in 2009, many observers thought that piracy would slow. Quite the opposite.

In 2010, those khat-stoked, RPG-armed buccaneers in their wooden skiffs managed to outrun and out-maneuver some of the world’s most powerful fleets in record numbers, attacking 445 ships and taking nearly 1,200 people hostage.

Pirates have grown even bolder in this new year, and are traveling even further from home. A week ago, they attempted to chase down a British cruise ship—the 348-passenger Spirit of Adventure—traveling from Madagascar to Zanzibar.

While his black-tied passengers were sitting down to dinner, Captain Frank Allica spied a speedboat in pursuit and floored the 9,570-ton ship to flee what he knew were pirates. The close encounter took place 100 miles off the coast of Africa.

The ship’s guests and 200 crewmembers were ordered below decks, told to sit on the floor and keep doors barricaded as the speedboat pulled alongside. Once the captain had outrun the pirates, guests were welcomed back to the dining room, and their soup was reheated. The captain was given a standing ovation at the next morning's breakfast.

Pirate success in recent years has impacted both the cruise- and cargo-ship businesses.

Several cruise companies have quit the Indian Ocean completely, including Seabourn—which canceled 15 cruises in 2010 and 2011—and Star Clippers. Several others—MSC Cruises, Fred Olsen and Hapag Lloyd—have changed itineraries to keep their ships far away from potential run-ins.

The cost of kidnap and ransom insurance has gone up for all ships, as have additional security costs, including hiring armed guards and wrapping ships with razor wire, grease and broken glass to deter potential boardings.

On the other hand, the specter of pirates scudding across the open seas puts the "adventure" in adventure cruises like nothing else before.


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