In November 2008, Somali pirates seized the Sirius Star, a supertanker carrying $100 million-worth of oil and demanded a $25 million ransom for its return. This story, following hot on the heels of the capture of the Ukrainian vessel MV Faina, brought piracy back to the front pages - but these were by no means isolated incidents. Over the past few years, piracy has once again become the scourage of the high seas. Throughout 2008, close to 90 ships were seized in the Gulf of Aden alone and, in many cases, the pirates were paid million-dollar ransoms to release them. What is the reason for this modern-day phenomenon and just who are the men behind it? What started as a patrol to combat commerical plundering of their fish stocks has now grown into a highly organised and lucrative business. In a war-torn country, the pirates have brought hope and entire villages depend on the wealth that they bring in - they have even been likened to Robin Hood. But whatever the motives behind their actions, these modern-day buccaneers should not be romanticised - their attacks are becoming more violent and they are increasingly in possession of automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
Nigel Cawthorne looks at the attacks that have taken place in the Malacca Straits, the Gulf of Guinea and off the coast of Bangladesh, plus he questions how the international community and its peace-keeping forces can try to bring stability and security back to the oceans of the world.
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