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Stakes on the High Seas: The Rising Dangers of Shipping
Huge 26 foot waves crash into a cruise liner, shattering windows and sending water gushing into crowds of people where two are killed and 14 others injured. A 24-year-old woman survives to tell the story of her father being killed on their sailboat right in front of her, shot in the chest by Honduran pirates. A Phillipine SuperFerry is bombed, killing 116 people in what is considered the worst terrorist attack in maritime history. Despite modern advances like satellite navigation and tracking, high seas shipping is becoming more and more of a dangerous prospect. The number of hazards may be many, but three of the most dangerous problems rise to the top of the list.
Johnny Depp, they are not. Pirates in this day and age are not the swashbuckling, jewel clad characters we see on film. Today's pirates are trained fighters, violent and aggressive, taking to the seas in mother ships and speedboats. They are ruthless, they are desperate, and the number of attacks by pirates worldwide more than tripled in 2009 according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB). We don't see a lot of it close to US waters (though the Honduran incident is not too far away) as most piracy is concentrated in the Indonesian archipelago. Other locations where piracy is common include off the coast of Bangladesh, Somalia, the Gulf of Aden/Red Sea, Nigeria, Tanzania and Peru.
The causes may be a matter of some controversy, but climate change or not, there is no debate that ocean waves are becoming bigger and more powerful. Based on buoy and wind data, scientists admit the coastal waves of the Pacific Northwest and Atlantic seaboard are steadily increasing in size at a rate of about four inches a year. Over a lifetime that can be dramatic. This increase is resulting in, or a result of, unpredictable "rogue" waves that can reach heights of 100 feet or more and can overtake even large ships in a matter of seconds. Amazingly, there are estimates that say two merchant ships a month vanish without a trace, thought to have been sunk by monster waves.
Different than piracy, terrorism is based more along ideological motivations instead of finanical ones. Though high seas terrorism by the true definition is not increasing as much as piracy, it is increasing, and these sea-going jihadists are adopting pirate techniques to further spread fear. Major similarities between terrorists and pirates are that they both act outside of nation states, they both commit murders and acts of destruction against civilian property and they both can be in it for financial gain. Currently there are no concrete ties between terrorist groups and pirates, but the use of satellite phones, GPS, AK-47s, anti-tank missiles, and rocket-propelled grenades by both groups suggests a link might have become established--a scary prospect.
Voyaging on the high seas has always been dangerous, and as long as ships set sail, ships will be lost. But because of piracy, monster waves and terrorism, maritime shipping is becoming even more hazardous.
sources: articles.cnn.com, news.nationalpost.com, www.dw-world.de, securitymanagement.com, washingtonpost.com, usni.org
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