Do rising sea surface temps play a role in East Africa’s piracy attacks?

By Laureen Fagan - 2 May 2023 at 9:38 pm
Do rising sea surface temps play a role in East Africa’s piracy attacks?

Climate change may be contributing to a rise in maritime piracy, according to a new study from criminologists based in Macau and the United States.

The researchers looked at 15 years of data on piracy attacks in the South China Sea and along the East African coastline, in places like Somalia. They also reviewed rising sea surface temperatures during that time period and concluded that heat-related decreases in fish production in African waters led to crime as an option.

“When we think of pirates, a guy with a peg leg and a parrot comes to mind, but modern piracy is a much more sophisticated phenomenon,” said Dr. Gary LaFree, a study co-author from the University of Maryland.

“Crime is much more of a dimmer switch than an on-off switch; these fishermen drift into crime when the economy is bad and they drift out of it when they’re able to,” he added. “This sort of hard dichotomy between criminals and noncriminals is way more porous.”

The results on piracy suggest that as climate change continues, it will impact criminal behavior and violence but in ways that are specific to the context and choices of the locale. The impacts don’t stay local, though; the regions studied see some of the heaviest maritime traffic on the planet.

“We’re talking billions and billions of dollars, so if left unchecked, piracy in especially a few of these narrow straits and bottleneck areas where pirates tend to head can have a huge economic impact,” LaFree said.

The new research, completed with Bo Jiang at the University of Macau, is published in the American Meteorological Society’s Weather, Climate and Society journal.

Image: UN EU piracy file photo

Laureen Fagan

Laureen Fagan

Laureen is the editor of Africa Times

Laureen is a freelance journalist creating high-quality, informed content on international affairs, politics and technology. She has worked both in and out of newsrooms since 2000. She is a former paramedic with significant experience in community resilience and nonprofit community development initiatives, and maintains "a passion for action" on sustainability and climate change. She also is trained in conflict resolution and diversity, and has special interests in science and medical reporting, and culture and religion issues. Laureen received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in the United States, and completed additional graduate study in theology at University of Notre Dame. Follow Laureen on Mastodon at

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