Today's real pirates of the Caribbean attacking a rusty fishing boat.


Crime is exotic, exciting, fun – unless you’re on the wrong end of it. And no criminals are more exotic and adventurous than pirates.

So, when I was researching a new novel last week and came across modern pirates in the Caribbean, I grew curious.

But these new pirates aren’t at all fun or glamorous. Forget Johnny Depp. You may find the results surprising – and shocking.

Modern piracy

Today’s Caribbean pirates are more likely to be poor Venezuelan fishermen or drug-smugglers. And they may target holiday-makers or even other poor fishermen to make ends meet.

Modern piracy emerged in the Indian Ocean around 2005, sparked by the civil wars in Somalia. The conflicts both removed the livelihoods from a large number of men and provided them with a generous supply of guns and ammunition.

The Somali pirates generally attacked large commercial ships, holding them to ransom. Costing, at its peak, an estimated $6.6 to $6.9 billion a year in global trade. The movie Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks, dramatised the true story of a pirate attack in 2009.

Today’s pirates of the Caribbean

But Caribbean piracy has gone a different route, attacking smaller private boats, such as tourist yachts, rather than tankers, and stealing personal possessions, cash and credit cards.

In the process, people have been killed – such as a German tourist, shot by robbers while sailing off the island of St Vincent with his wife and children. By a sick irony, he was killed in a cove where scenes from the original movie Pirates of the Caribbean had been filmed.

Perhaps more shockingly, pirates have been attacking poor fishermen, hardly any richer than themselves. One such was Trinidadian Candy Edwards, who was hijacked by a boatload of men waving machine guns.

He was taken back to Venezuela, held in a cage and ransomed for $35,000. The money was somehow found by his community and he was freed after seven days. But he was so scared he didn’t go back to sea for a year.

Other attacks are for different reasons. Drug-smugglers steal the engines of fishing boats, so that fishermen don’t fish in the area where they could witness their drug-trafficking operations, which can then take place in complete impunity.

And as a result, of course, the fishermen can no longer earn a living.


There is good news, however. Countries are discovering that you can’t fight pirates on the high seas on their own. Pirates can move too quickly from one part of the sea to another. And even when arrested, many jurisdictions have laws that are archaic and not suited to the job.

New international agreements are coming, making it easier to pursue pirates through the courts.

And multinational coalition task forces are being formed to police the seas. Already, such forces in the Indian Ocean have managed to reduce pirate incidents by 90%, with no successful hijackings at all, in some recent years.

Now such combined forces are starting to appear in the Caribbean

Maybe, by forcing countries to work together, today’s pirates of the Caribbean have something important to teach us, after all.

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Read more

Venezuelan pirates – the new scourge of the Caribbean – BBC

Yachts encountering real pirates of the Caribbean – LA Times

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