The State of Piracy

The subject of piracy — real pirates attacking ships on the high seas — has come up more than a few times on this blog, notably with the guest posts of economist/pirate scholar Peter Leeson. His book on the subject, The Invisible Hook, will be published next month.

In the meantime, those of you looking for a pirate fix should check out this fascinating and topical article in Good. It’s by Ryan Hagen, who does a lot of Freakonomics research for us and is among those who contribute items to this blog under the byline “Freakonomics.”

The article has two main characters: Noel Choong, director of the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, who functions as “a global 911 dispatcher” for hijacked ships; and John Dalby, who runs a U.K.-based company called Marine Risk Management, a sort of high-end mercenary outfit made up of former military personnel who specialize in recapturing hijacked ships:

Dalby’s team has at their disposal a small fleet of private jets, helicopters, amphibious marine craft, and a lot of firepower. But unlike some of the newer forces at work in antipiracy, Dalby says, discretion has always been the rule at Marine Risk Management. “When we started putting our act together, we very carefully vetted a lot of people from different backgrounds. And we had lots of applications from around the world — a lot of jarheads who wanted to just go in and kill people. We still get them. The only personnel we’ll take are ex-special forces. They don’t have this sort of gung-ho attitude. They are more stealthy and sneaky, and more calm.”

Joe Smith

And here I thought that the main employment opportunity for ex special forces was as a "camera man" for travel documentaries. You've seen the TV shows, petite blond traipses through dangerous parts of the world by herself - except for the stone cold killer carrying the camera who you never get to see.

Eric M. Jones

I note in passing--You never see a ship with barbed wire protecting its gunwales or access openings. Why not?

Eric the Red

We prefer to be called buccaneer-Somalis.

Jason Goodman

Wow. "The Invisible Hook" is probably the best name for an economics book I've ever heard. And that includes "Freakonomics".


This sounds like a great plot for an action movie and/or video game. Modern day mercenaries employed to take out modern day pirates with high-tech tactics.


@5: It was kind of done already in Tom Clancy's "Rainbox Six." Unfortunately, most of Clancy's books can't be made into movies because it isn't politically correct to portray bad guys, especially foreign bad guys, as people whose quick death would benefit society. They've done quite well as videogames, however.

That said, I'd still read it/play it. Anything that involves the death of violent criminals in the act of being criminals is okay in my book.


By the sound of it, it seems that the desire for this job position is quite high internationally indicating that the demand is high. meanwhile, the supply or availability for this employment must be scarce since the employers are able to be extra selective over their workers as is evident by the statement "the only personell we'll take are ex-special forces." This makes me wonder, are these people paid alot because of the limited supply yet high demand. Or is the position less for the moeny and more for the thrills, because employees try to hire those who are willing to take the lowest paychecks?


Looking forward to the book - I've started working with ocean freight in the last month and have become more interested in the issues around it. I was very happy to see that my local library ordered four copies and I was the second person to request it.

I bet the first person was another Freakanomics reader in MSP.


sounds like a job for Blackwater (or that pacified new name)- they certainly don't have jarheads who want to go in and kill people- although it is on their job application...


I think there is one overlooked variable in piracy research, that of government meddling.
Our house-help's son was held hostage by Somali pirates a few months ago. The navy company told the family not to publicize the event because of the possibility of government meddling.
Ransom money that should only cost several million dollars could easily balloon to twice or three times the pirate asking price, because companies have to pay government negotiators and their entourage, as well as other cash commonly known as corruption money.


The pirates are nothing more than organized crime on the oceans...