Preventing piracy on the high seas

Workers paint the flank of the US-owned Seabourn Spirit. The cruise ship carrying hundreds of tourists was attacked by pirates in November 2005 near the coast of Somalia on November 5.

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TESS VIGELAND: One look at the box office figures and I'd guess lots of you had pirates on the brain this summer, thanks to Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp. Asian countries are focused on pirates too, but not as entertainment. Pirates, real ones, attacked more than 250 ships off the coasts of Asia and Africa last year. These modern-day outlaws have traded in peg-legs and parrots for GPS tracking systems and machine guns. Today an anti-piracy agreement signed by a dozen Asian countries takes effect. Miranda Kennedy has more from New Delhi.


MIRANDA KENNEDY: Pirates have been attacking ships in the Strait of Malacca for 1,500 years.

Half the world's oil and a third of its commerce passes through the narrow shipping lane of the Indian Ocean. So the loot may not be gold and jewels anymore, but there's still plenty for pirates to plunder.

UDAY BHASKAR: The Malaccas, the Straits of Malacca, is the equivalent of the new silk route for the modern economy.

Defense analyst Uday Bhaskar says global trade depends on being able to ship fuel across this pirate-infested waterway.

BHASKAR: Because you need to transport hydrocarbons from the oil rich Persian Gulf to East Asia where you have major economies such as Japan, China . . .

Those countries are getting pretty anxious about pirate attacks, which have become more violent and organized in recent years. And Washington is worried too. The big fear is that terrorists could link up with pirates to blow up an oil tanker or attack a major port.

RAJA MENON: I have transited the Strait of Malacca many times and those are areas where the captain of the ship never sleeps at night.

Former Indian navy officer Raja Menon says at least 250 ships navigate these dangerous waters every day. If pirates can't be stopped, the big tankers will have to start using a longer route.

MENON: Piracy has a cost. The financial effect is more in terms of shippers avoiding certain routes or insurance companies jacking up the insurance rates which are then passed on to the consumer.

That's one reason many Asian countries have agreed, in today's pact, that their armed forces will work together to protect their ships and ports.

They need all the friends they can get to fight the fearsome bandits of Asia's high seas.

In New Delhi, I'm Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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