Pirate Problems


The movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, is based on a true story: In April 2009, Somali pirates boarded the cargo ship Maersk Alabama off the Somali coast. The movie might make you wonder: Is piracy still a problem? And how big a problem? (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to better understand “Pirate Problems,” and how the Navy rescued the Maersk Alabama.

Discussion Ideas

  • Watch our short “media spotlight” video about the U.S. Navy’s counter-piracy policies, focusing on the rescue of Capt. Phillips and the Maersk Alabama. Rear Admiral Michelle Howard explains how pirates use “low-tech” weaponry to attack ships. What weapons and tools does Adm. Howard mention?
    • Adm. Howard says that pirates usually have one or two skiffs (small boats), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), AK-47s (automatic assault rifles), and boarding ladders.
  • Review the “media spotlight” video. What are some “best practices” recommended by the Navy to prevent pirate attacks? Compare these practices with recommendations from Jay Bahadur, the author interviewed in the Nat Geo News article. Does Bahadur offer any additional tips?
    • The Navy recommends that ships in high-risk areas increase speed, remove external ladders, install razor wire, and pre-position fire hoses to repel pirates attempting to board the ship.
    • Bahadur adds an important suggestion: Pirate territory should be avoided . . . by many hundreds of miles.
  • If experts such as Jay Bahadur recommend staying as far away from pirate territory as possible, why do cargo ships risk the journey?
    • Money. Cargo ships make billions of dollars every year transporting goods (including aid supplies) around the world. Container ships like the Maersk Alabama often carry non-bulk cargo, such as cars or other vehicles, machinery, and plastics.
  • Read our article “Pirate Problems,” in which Capt. John Hawkins explains how ships combat piracy in the Indian Ocean. Given that U.S. industry and the U.S. military are far more powerful—with greater numbers, more well-trained personnel, and access to superior equipment—why does Capt. Hawkins think Somali pirates engage in such dangerous activities?
    • Money, as outlined by Fact 4 in the Nat Geo News article. “All those Navy ships they’ve put out there are spending millions, probably billions, over the years trying to beat guys that make $20 to $30 a month,” Hawkins says. “When you are talking about people that are living off virtually nothing, it’s worth it. You are talking about winning the lottery for these guys that are successful on one pirate attempt.”

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