The general public rarely hears about ocean shipping, but thanks to National Geographic, millions of readers are getting a look at a problem that's unknown even to many importers and exporters: piracy.
You may think that piracy on the high seas is strictly the stuff of museum exhibits and long-ago tales. But—as an article in the magazine's October 2007 issue makes clear—pirates remain a serious threat to shipping in the 21st century.
The Strait of Malacca and the waters surrounding Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are prime territory for pirates' forays. Efforts by local authorities and a maritime crime-reporting network have had little effect, and ships must proceed through the area on high alert, as if they're in a war zone. (The problem isn't limited to Southeast Asia, by the way; other piracy hot spots include parts of the Middle East and South America.)
Container ships aren't immune from attack, despite their size and imposing towers of steel boxes. Armed pirates in high-speed boats are adept at climbing the steep sides; they attack and rob crewmembers, and then cut container seals and steal merchandise. Once back in their boats, they head to one of the junglecovered islands that dot the strait's waters.
The article, "Strait of Malacca: Dark Passage," is available online at www.ngm.com. Another excellent— and sobering—story about modern-day piracy is William Langewiesche's 2004 book, The Outlaw Sea.
Now, how many of you just whipped out a copy of your marine insurance policy to check your coverage?