Pirate Problems

WORLD 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 … Continue reading Pirate Problems

Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science

WORLD Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science “Piracy has stopped oceanographic work in the region,” says one scientist. “There’s been no data coming out of this area [the Indian Ocean near the Horn of Africa] for years. Zero.” Discussion Ideas: As writer and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek writes in this article, some of the most notorious terrorists in the world are pirates who operate … Continue reading Hidden Victim of Somali Pirates: Science


What is a pirate?  In today’s society, there are two distinct answers:  the glamorous and sneaky pirate embodied by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and the feared, but distant, pirates of East Africa.  These pirates, Somali men mostly between the ages of 20 and 35, are pirates, feared just like the real pirates of the Caribbean during the 17th and 18tharghpiratemap.jpg centuries.  Who are they and what drives them to hold the 13 cargo-ships currently within their seizure ransom?  

First, a brief history lesson: It is hard to say when piracy truly began, perhaps because it emerged almost as soon as civilizations became sea-faring.  In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans were terrorized by rovers from the Middle East on the Mediterranean who mixed naval warfare with thievery.  In addition to these pirates, Phoenicians also threatened the safety of the Sea by combining piracy with legitimate business, and, to the North, the Vikings created a lifestyle based largely on pillaging costal towns.  After the voyages of Columbus charted the way for Spanish domination of the Caribbean, other European nations endorsed sailors to fight, raid and harass the Spanish on the seas.  These men, called privateers, split their acquisitions equally and then gave the remaining half to the commissioning government.  The “Golden Age of Piracy” during the 17th and 18th centuries saw the emergence of legendary pirates like Edward Teach (Black Beard), “Black Bart” Roberts and Captain William Kidd.  As naval forces grew in the Caribbean, piracy slowly declined in the Western Hemisphere, but is still a very real problem in some parts of the world today.

argh somalia.jpgSince the collapsing of the Somali central government in 1991, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa have become the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world.  In 2008, more than 120 attacks occurred by Somali pirates, bringing in revenue of over $100 million  The world turned to these attacks in February, 2009, when $3.2 million in ransom, dropped via parachute, was surrendered for a Ukrainian freighter.

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