The International Maritime Bureau on Thursday reported a sharp decline in piracy on the world’s seas. While the movie Captain Phillips—telling the 2009 story of Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama hijacking by Somali pirates—receives best picture attention, the reality of global piracy is that it is at its lowest levels in more than six years. In 2013, there were 264 attacks against merchant shipping vessels, resulting in 12 vessels being hijacked. This represents a 40 percent decline from the 2011 peaks.
The decline in piracy has been driven by several factors. Increased naval patrols by the United States, the European Union, and others in Gulf of Aden and other key waterways combined with a greater investment in security and countermeasures by global shipping companies has deterred some attacks. But increasing political stability and economic development in Somalia has also been critical. In 2010, 49 of the 53 ships hijacked around the world were taken off the coasts of Somalia. The country lacked any central government and was ruled—to the extent that it was ruled—by competing warlords. Fishing communities lacked any options for eking out a living, and thus turned to piracy. Today, the country has a fragile but existing government and is working with other countries in the region to establish itself. Things, in short, are moving in the right direction. And as a result, many who formerly viewed piracy as a means of survival are finding other options available to them. In other words, two of the key factors in combating Somali piracy were political stability and economic development.