A 2017 report noted that the Caribbean Sea, including northern South America, saw an increase in reported piracy incidents by an estimated 163% over the previous year. This information comes from the Oceans Beyond Piracy program’s Maritime Piracy Report. Among the reported incidents, anchored yachts in Venezuela and Colombia were most often documented as victims. This is key to understanding the source of the swell in pirate activity. As the Venezuelan economy continues its downward spiral, it also produces conditions encouraging piracy amongst its populace.
The factors that engender piracy, as summed up by ThoughtCo, are the social acceptance of piracy, chronic unemployment, and a lack of legal consequences. According to the IMF, Venezuelan unemployment is projected to reach 33%, or over 10 million people, by December of 2018. Piracy fills this void by not only occupying a person’s time, but also by bringing wealth into a community that is otherwise on the verge of collapse. As a result, piracy is not seen as a crime by the whole community, which makes enforcing anti-piracy laws difficult.
The core of every solution to piracy involves making the act of hijacking, robbing or ransoming a vessel too costly for the average participant. This is often understood as increased security, both onboard vessels and along the coasts of affected areas. Despite the success private military contractors and floating armories have had combating piracy off the Horn of Africa and in the Indian Ocean, they are not without their problems. The Golden Age of Piracy ended around 1720 when the navies of the great powers turned on their former allies of convenience (pirates). The infamous Somali piracy problem was said to have been ended by US Naval Intelligence in 2013, with only sporadic resurgences due to the war in Yemen.
As time goes on, military based responses present a huge threat to maritime safety due to the way nations tend expand their military’s influence under the guise of combating piracy. If Caribbean piracy explodes like Somalian piracy did in its heyday, there is a very real danger that private contractors based in the US and UK will seek to militarize the otherwise tranquil waters.
After all, piracy is more a symptom of a larger disease than a disease in and of itself. When poor economies, like Venezuela’s, do not provide legitimate ways to afford the essentials in life, all manner of illegitimate and illegal methods are all that’s left. Today, piracy might be the easiest for the Caribbean’s poorest denizens, but tomorrow it could be drug muling or prostitution. Surely every problem won’t be met with the barrel of a gun.