Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, but Killers Go Free - The New York Times
The oceans, plied by more ships than ever before, are also more armed and dangerous than any time since World War II, naval historians say. Thousands of seamen every year are victims of violence, with hundreds killed, according to maritime security officials, insurers and naval researchers. Last year in three regions alone — the western Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia and the Gulf of Guinea off West Africa — more than 5,200 seafarers were attacked by pirates and robbers and more than 500 were taken hostage, a database built by The New York Times shows.
Many merchant vessels hired private security starting in 2008 as pirates began operating across larger expanses of the ocean, outstripping governments’ policing capacities. Guns and guards at sea are now so ubiquitous that a niche industry of floating armories has emerged. The vessels — part storage depot, part bunkhouse — are positioned in high-risk areas of international waters and house hundreds of assault rifles, small arms and ammunition. Guards on board wait, sometimes for months in decrepit conditions, for their next deployment.
Radar advancements and the increased use of so-called fish-aggregating devices — floating objects that attract schools of fish — have heightened tensions as fishermen are more prone to crowd the same spots. “Catches shrink, tempers fray, fighting starts,” Mr. Southwick said. “Murder on these boats is relatively common.”
Discerning threats is difficult. Semiautomatic weapons, formerly a pirates’ telltale sign, are now found on virtually all boats traversing dangerous waters, they said. Smugglers, with no intention of attacking, routinely nestle close to larger merchant ships to hide in their radar shadow and avoid being detected by coastal authorities. Fishing boats also sometimes tuck behind larger ships because they churn up sea-bottom sediment that attracts fish.