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A growing epidemic of piracy off the coast of Somalia is having a damaging effect on the international maritime industry, both in terms of the humanitarian toll it is taking on the lives of seized civilian mariners and its economic consequences.

With the number of civilian mariners being held hostage by pirates at record highs, the humanitarian toll is evident enough, though few outside the industry can fully appreciate the anxiety this is having on those serving aboard the vessels that sail the area and the inconvenience and dislocation it is causing. Additionally, important security interests are being threatened as well.

Moreover, according to a recent report issued by Ocean Beyond Piracy, a non-profit organization dedicated to seeking solutions to pressing international problems, the cost of piracy is $7 billion a year, 80 percent of which is borne by the industry itself.

Of course, the real cost of piracy can never be fully calculated. As the author of the report noted, “The human cost of piracy cannot be defined (just) in economic terms…

“We do note with great concern that there were a significant number of piracy-related deaths, hostages taken, and seafarers subject to traumatic armed attacks in 2011. This happened in spite of the success of armed guards and military action in the later part of the year.”