Maritime piracy is defined as a crime committed aboard a ship or an aircraft, by a person or group of people that are not employed by a government entity. In the most basic terms, maritime piracy consists of raids or invasions of ships or boats by a group of criminals called pirates. Pirates seek goods and cash from their victims, and most times they are armed and dangerous.
There is a long history of maritime piracy, with some areas of the world being targeted more than others. Such locations as the Malacca Strait, which is a small body of water near Southeast Asia and Indonesia, as well as the coastal areas off the Horn of Africa, tend to be targets for piracy. Though most maritime piracy incidents involve merchant ships, there have been cases of attacks on cruise ships and personal watercraft.
Throughout history there have been time periods which tend to have more cases of maritime piracy than others, the most famous time period being the Golden Age of piracy. The Golden Age of Piracy took place from the 1650s to the 1720s. During this time period there were a number of factors driving an increase in pirate attacks. Many men had been trained in European navies, and later when there were few navy jobs available, some of them turned to alternative methods of earning money, one of which was piracy. For these pirates, an increase in the shipping of valuable goods turned out to be very convenient, and many people earned a living by robbing ships of valuable merchandise.
The goal of modern pirates has not changed much since the Golden Age of piracy, but the methods of attacking ships has. Modern pirates are armed with weapons such as the RPG-7, a low cost, highly effective missile launcher, which can cause great damage to a vessel. This is a very convincing weapon, which in many cases allows the pirates easy access to vessels, as merchants do not choose to retaliate.
Efforts to combat maritime piracy are always in place, though the task is never a simple one, due to legal and strategic reasons. Piracy laws can be difficult to enforce because of the international aspects of the crime. In fact, there is a fine line between what some experts consider to be piracy and what others consider to be terrorism, and this alone makes maritime piracy a complicated issue.
Regardless of how people define piracy, the act of hijacking and robbing ships and other water craft causes companies to lose money, and sometimes costs innocent lives as well. Maritime piracy, though often glamorized in the entertainment industry, is in fact a complex international crime. Regardless of technical advances, piracy continues to be one type of crime that has withstood the test of time, and the efforts of many nations that want to see it end.