For some time, anti-corruption professionals and scholars have been aware of the linkage between corruption and piracy on the high seas, most frequently reported in recent years for the waters in or near Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Somalia. The Washington Post, however, reported yesterday that there is an upsurge in piracy in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to a nonprofit organization, Oceans Beyond Piracy, there were 71 major piracy incidents in the region in 2017 (the vast majority occurring in Caribbean waters), including robberies of merchant vessels and attacks on yachts. That total represents a 163 percent increase over 2016.
The most notable surge in the region’s piracy has been off the coast of Venezuela, which is suffering from inflation nearing 1 million percent, spreading malnutrition, rampant disease, failing power grids, police and military abandoning their posts, and increased repression and corruption. The Post observed that often these acts of piracy in the region “appear to be happening with the complicity or direct involvement of corruption officials,” particularly in the waters off Venezuela.
Some pirates in the region have been satisfied simply to rob other vessels or hold people for ransom. Other attacks have reportedly involved extreme violence against the victims. The Post reported that in April 2018, for example, masked men boarded four Guyanese fishing boats 50 miles off the coast of Guyana. “The crews, according to survivors’ accounts, were doused with hot oil, hacked with machetes and thrown overboard, then their boats were stolen. Of the 2 victims, five survived; the rest died or were left unaccounted for.”
Further details about this regional trend, as well as trends in high-seas piracy elsewhere, are available in Oceans Beyond Piracy’s The State of Maritime Piracy 2017, and in the six-part 2016-17 National Geographic series Lawless Oceans.