Whatever romantic notions we have about the pirates of previous centuries, there shouldn’t be any doubt that modern piracy is a stone-cold business. It’s an unlawful business and one detrimental to shipping interests and international commerce, but nevertheless an operation whose guiding purpose is commercial in nature. That makes Somali and other pirates largely the concern of workaday ships of commerce that ply danger zones, though non-commercial vessels are at risk as well.
Wherever piracy occurs, it’s the result of a confluence of factors (and it’s an age-old problem; early in his life, no less a personage than Julius Caesar was captured by pirates). The recipe for piracy is this: a seafaring but poor people who live near a prosperous trade route, combined with little or no government control of their territory. Somalia is a text book example. The country has not had a functioning government for about 20 years, and is essentially a lawless patchwork of quarreling warlords, tribal entities and terrorist groups lording over a population that gets by on about $500 a year per person.
Moreover, the Somalis have a long history of seafaring, especially as fishermen. As such, they have jealously guarded their fishing grounds for years, using their vessels to drive away foreign trawlers. As the government of Somalia melted into anarchy, this “coast guard” discovered new opportunities as pirates, and as they grew experienced, they started venturing further out and seizing larger vessels such as bulk cargo containers and oil tankers. Somali pirates are now known to strike in an area of roughly 2.5 million square nautical miles off Somalia’s coastline, which is an increase of about one million nautical miles from only two years ago, according to Geopolicity.