Today’s Strategic Studies Group meeting was unusually interesting. Lieutenant Commander Nigel JF Dawson was speaking about contemporary piracy and gave me specific permission to discuss it here a little. Basically, there are two hotspots of piracy in the world today: off the coast of Somalia and in the Malacca Strait. The latter waterway carries about 60% of world trade, including all the oil used by Japan and China.
Apparently, there are two major types of piracy happening in Southeast Asia. The first is simple enough: unsophisticated robbery of ships by individuals with few weapons and little organization. The second is much more dramatic: the wholesale capture of ships. Organized gangs steal whole oil tankers, repaint them, produce fake documentation for them, sell the cargo, and then sell or scrap the ships themselves. In the Malacca region, the unsophisticated kind of piracy is the norm south of the third parallel, while the region to the north involves mostly the larger scale sort. The character of piracy off the African coast was less thoroughly discussed. I have heard of an incident where the Tamil Tigers stole a ship containing a consignment of munitions for the Sri Lankan government.
A Piracy Reporting Centre in Malaysia apparently keeps track of all this, though only about one in four incidents are actually reported. I suppose it would make the clients of shipping companies nervous to learn that their cargo faces such perils.
It seems like the easiest way to target the problem would be to deal with the on-shore networks that support the trade. In particular, there must be ways to combat the wholesale expropriation and re-titling of ships. A global registry seems as though it would have a decent chance of being useful, at least when it comes to trade in huge oil and gas tankers.