Regardless of the general opinion that piracy was exterminated before WWI, it still exists
Thousands of Russian sailors put to sea every day. They have to work for foreigners because their life in Russia is really hard. Sailors run much risk when they go under the so-called "convenient flag", the Panamanian one as a rule. First of all, crews have to work under the hardest conditions. Second, pirates are on the watch for them all over the world.
The Sea Plague
Regardless of the general opinion that piracy was exterminated before WWI, it still exists. Recently, the International Maritime Bureau has published a special report about pirates. The report contains impressive figures. 234 instances of piracy at sea were registered over the six months of 2003. Only 171 instances of piracy were registered over the same period of 2002. So, the piratical activity has twice increased over the year.
Piracy has become an everyday phenomenon the same way as in the epoch described Robert Lewis Stevenson, the piratical symbols are popular once again. Before boarding, sea robbers traditionally hang out the black skull and bones flag. Piracy rages particularly in South-Eastern Asia, near the shores of Philippines and Vietnam. If Japan and China can maintain order on their near-shore territories, governments of less developed countries have to shut their eyes to piracy.
Piracy is thriving in the territorial waters of countries with weak economies. This is quite clear that people driven to despair have to subsist by piracy. Vessels with Russian crews on board have recently become the most attractive target for pirates because these seamen are incredibly helpless today.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian seamen have to become employed at any vessel; they have to cut down all the expenses to earn money. Very often their safety also suffers from the economizing. Seamen traditionally have signal pistols on board, but they are rather weak arguments against pirates.
As a rule, attacks at sea are committed according to the same scheme. A dry cargo ship or a container ship is surrounded with faster and more mobile boats from every side. Pirates fire in the air to spread panic on the attacked vessel, and then they board the ship. If the capture is a success, the crew is put into the hold with their hands tied and the pirates seize all the valuables. As pirates have no prospects of success on open sea, they usually attack vessels in narrow straits and at anchorages.
Alexander Bodnya, the chairman of the Baltic territorial department of the Russian Seamen's trade union says that coastguards are the only protection from pirates for seamen. "However, if coastguards are ineffective, seamen have to think of their safety themselves. It is very important to notice pirates as early as possible and to always have sailors on duty. Ship crews must keep water cannons in readiness."
Russian seamen have no weapons on board and thus have to use water cannons to protect themselves from pirates. They are really effective instruments of protection. Seamen knock pirates off their feet with heavy sheets of water pumped with water cannons. Usually, all crew members are involved in defence of the vessel.
Story of an Eyewitness
Nikolay Kazakov from St.Petersburg tells: "Attacks of pirates are sinister! I have experienced one near the Philippines shores. We came to anchor late in the evening. In an hour and a half, the sailor on duty focused a searchlight on several fishing boats; they were surrounding our ship from all the sides with their engines stopped. When the sailor on duty sounded the alarm the whole of the crew came to the upper deck. We had hooks, axes and water cannons ready for an attack as we knew the area was dangerous. The pirates were everywhere firing in the air and crying in some unknown language. I was standing on the rostrum with a water cannon directed against the pirates. We dropped our life-boat on one of the piratical boats. A lamp above me broke to pieces with a bullet. One of the crew was slightly wounded, another guy slipped on a fire-hose and broke his hand. We have been fighting off the pirates for about 20 minutes, then they noticed a patrol boat approaching our ship and had to immediately retire. However, the patrol boat was moving rather slowly. It is not ruled out that pirates and patrol boats act in agreement with each other. The patrol obviously waits for some time for the pirates to finish robbery and then approach the crime scene."
Alexander Bodnya adds that Russian seamen theoretically have the right to carry weapons, if they are members of the hunters' society for example. But customs officers will not let them cross the border with weapons, and if they manage to leave the country with the weapons they may have problems abroad. In Greece, a captain has the right to carry a pistol for protection from pirates.
For the time being, Russian seamen rely on themselves only. They are really brave indeed, this is the reason why Russian seamen are so much popular all over the world. However, the situation needs strict control. This autumn, training of specialists for protection of vessels at sea started in Russia. These specialists are supposed to fight against pirates in the future.