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The Pirate Hunters

April 14, 2009

Last week, for the first time in 100 years, an American capital ship — owned and crewed by U.S. citizens — was taken by pirates. The ordeal of the ship’s captain and his heroic rescue by a Navy Seal team have been the subject of nonstop media focus.

Piracy is obviously not a new phenomenon, but attacks on shipping have become more brazen through the course of the past decade. Taken together, they pose a significant threat to the global economy:

Global commerce would collapse without oceangoing ships to transfer the world’s fuel, minerals and bulk commodities, along with much of its medicines and foodstuffs. According to the U.S. Maritime Administration, about 95 percent of the world’s trade travels by water. Boston-based Global Insight, a forecasting company, estimates the value of maritime trade for 2007 to be at least $6 trillion. Estimates of the pirates’ annual global plunder range into the billions.

While military operations like those mounted by both the American and French navies last week get plenty of attention, armed forces are not necessarily at the forefront of this fight. The International Maritime Bureau established the Piracy Reporting Centre in 1992 as a means of policing the threat, and the IMB now employs some of the best pirate hunters in the world.

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