Piracy has a long history in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore (SOMS) with records from the 14th century showing that piracy created such a problem that the Chinese Ming Dynasty despatched an admiral and fleet to try and clean up the waters (1). The region provides the perfect area of operation for pirates, hundreds of islands coated in mangroves make excellent hiding places for those attacking the approximately 120,000 vessels that pass the straits annually (2).
Pirate attacks against shipping in the SOMS has been inconsistent, some years seeing over a hundred cases, others seeing as low as 2 (3). While the numbers of cases, the targets and the methods of pirates have varied over time piracy itself has remained an unstoppable threat able to return even after herculean efforts to end the crime. This raises the question of why piracy has been able to persist in this region for so long, even when efforts have proved the threat can be reduced to a minuscule amount.
There is no simple answer to this question. Piracy has evolved constantly over the last few decades shifting with economic and political changes. In order to understand why piracy has been so persistent in the SOMS several areas must be looked at: tracing piracy’s history, showing the pull factors that make piracy attractive, the push factors that make it seem a necessity and the efforts made to stop this crime all are necessary to understand why piracy in the SOMS has been so persistent and why this is likely to remain the case.