Sept. 14, 2011 — -- High seas pirates, which have preyed on tankers and cargo ships, are expanding and becoming an increasing menace to tourists and corporate travelers.
The most jarring example of growing boldness of modern day pirates is a tactic that is a throwback to the days of sea raiders. Last weekend, wealthy British publisher David Tebbutt and his wife Judith were vacationing at a coastal Kenyan resort when they were attacked from the sea.
Tebbutt was shot dead and his wife was taken away by boat and is still missing. While the attackers have not been caught, some fear a Somali pirate gang could be responsible.
"Piracy is something that people should be worried about, especially if they are going for tourism," said Michelle Bernier-Toth, the managing director for overseas citizens service at the U.S. Department of State.
"It does happen and it is not something that people should take lightly. Incidents have been increasingly violent, very brutal and people are literally taking their lives in their hands when they set off on what could be a very unfortunate adventure," Bernier-Toth said.
Bernier-Toth also said that the geographic area covered by pirates is constantly growing. Private vessels, like yachts, often face greater risks than merchant marine vessels because they do not have the same security measures.
"It's a huge issue right now in leisure travel as well as corporate travel because you are seeing crime increase globally," said travel expert Randy Spivey, founder and CEO of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety. "As the economy becomes more of a challenge, travel security becomes more of an issue."
Business has been good for pirates, especially in the area of hostage and ransom operations. An average pirate ransom in 2008 was $1 million. In 2011, the average ransom is between $4 million and $5 million, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center.
Due to this financial success, pirate attacks and kidnappings have been on the rise since 2008 and the numbers are staggering.
In the first eight-and-a-half months of 2011 alone, there have been 330 reported worldwide incidents of piracy. that's up from 293 attacks in all of 2008. More than 50 percent of these have been Somali-related and occurred along the coast of the Horn of Africa in the Indian Ocean.
In addition to the growing number, the pirates have become bolder are more violent than before -- they've expanded their geographical target areas, tactics, and use of automatic weapons, and their hostage periods are longer, according to IMB Manager Cyrus Mody.
Right now, there are 16 vessels and 301 hostages being held by Somali pirates. While the majority of these are commercial vessels, since 2008, tourists from the United States, Germany, England and France have all been victims of pirate attacks.
Four Americans on a yacht were killed by Somali pirates in February 2011, marking the first time U.S. citizens have been victims.
"Private individuals on yachts are at a much higher risk if they go into these waters unaware of what the threats are," said Mody. "They may not have the means to negotiate their release and may rely on other organizations or governments, [which] makes it a lot more difficult for them to get released."
Most experts advise travelers to stay out of known danger zones.
"The whole concept of yachting anywhere in the vicinity of Somalia is nonsensical. You'd have to have your head examined," said David Shinn, the former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso. "There's no protection against [pirates]. You can't outrun them and if they find you, you're just a goner."
While Somalia itself is not a popular tourist destination, it is near countries that are. Bordering Kenya, for example, is popular for safari-seeking tourists and has a number of well-known luxury resorts.
While the area surrounding Somalia is the undisputed zone of greatest danger, other areas of the world are of concern as well.
"Piracy at sea is a worldwide phenomenon which has affected not only the coasts of Africa, but also Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, and Venezuela. Americans citizens considering travel by sea should exercise caution when near and within these coastal areas," it says on the U.S. Department of State's travel page.
For travelers who decide to venture into any of these areas, security experts say there are important precautions that can and should be taken.
Businesses often use risk assessment companies to help them assess particular countries or regions for danger, and individuals can also do this. This service can cost from $500 to $1,500.
Spivey, who has run hostage survival training programs for the Department of Defense, also offers training in travel safety and security and kidnap survival.
"Most people, when they travel, don't really research the location they're going to from a safety or security perspective," Spivey said. He believes this research should always be step one for any traveler.
Spivey and other experts also suggest checking in with your embassy in whatever country you are in and with the navy, if you are sailing. Check in often and let them know what your plans are.
While Spivey emphasizes avoiding putting yourself in harm's way by yachting in questionable water, he said that there are three c's to follow if you find yourself in a hostage situation: calm, connect and capitalize.
"You want to be a calming influence on those who are holding you," Spivey said. He suggests remaining as calm as possible and not talking about possibly touchy subjects like money or politics.
If possible, try to connect with your captor through common ground, perhaps about family.
"You want to make them see you as a person and not an object," Spivey said. "It's easier to kill an object than a person."
Finally, Spivey recommends capitalizing by encouraging negotiations to take place since all most pirates want is money: "If your company policy is to not pay ransom, you don't want to say that," Spivey said.
Ultimately, Spivey said to trust your "DLR" intuition: Doesn't Look Right.
"Trust your instincts," Spivey said. "Understand that the bad guys are not out there because of their strong work ethic. They're looking for the easiest target they can find. You want to be a hard target."