Want to talk like a pirate? Learn Indonesian

Pirates of the South China sea
Eric Paul Pierre Pasquier | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images
Pirates of the South China sea

Monday is "International Talk Like a Pirate Day," when thousands of people use words like "ahoy" and "matey" in their everyday speech — but it's also a good time to remember that in the real world, actual pirates cause billions of dollars in losses and dozens of deaths each year.

Fortunately, the number of piracy incidents has seen a steep decline in recent years and are at their lowest levels since the late 1990s, according to the United Nations' International Maritime Organization. And if you wanted to really talk like a pirate today, it would sound a little different from the popular Long John Silver-inspired drawl: most piracy last year took place in Asian waters, especially those around Indonesia.

Talk Like a Pirate Day emphasizes a romanticized version of maritime piracy that might be unrecognizable to the sailors who fall victim to pirates today.

Take, for instance, the 2009 seizure of the Mr. Bean, a yacht that was taken by pirates in Thai territorial waters. Three pirates with knives and hammers boarded the ship, which was crewed by a British couple. The wife was held hostage for 12 hours and suffered serious injuries, while the husband was killed and thrown into the sea.

Of the more than 7,100 piracy incidents recorded over the last two decades, about 100 involved at least one death, according to data from the International Maritime Organization.

Often, pirates sneak onto docked ships and make a stealthy getaway with stolen goods before the crew notices. At other times, the alarm is raised by lookouts, and the crew can repel the invaders with weapons or by increasing the ship's speed.

Piracy also has a staggering economic toll. Maritime pirate attacks can cost the world as much as $7 billion a year in lost cargoes and pirate avoidance strategies such as increasing cruising speeds (which burns more fuel), according to the nonprofit group Oceans Beyond Piracy. As countries and companies have fought back, the cost fell to $1.3 billion last year.

Modern piracy reached its peak around 2011, when Somali pirates were attacking hundreds of vessels — often commercial ships — off the coast of Africa each year. Since then, piracy in the area has been largely suppressed by counterpiracy operations, including military intervention.

Faster military responses and improved dock security in Indonesia have also cut the number of incidents in half so far this year.

Despite those recent strides, piracy appears to be worsening in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Nigeria. Rather than hijacking oil tankers to steal cargo, pirates there have increasingly focused on kidnapping crews for ransom, according to the International Maritime Bureau, part of the International Chamber of Commerce.

While the pirates of old may be resting in Davy Jones' locker, it may be a long time until the world is truly free of criminals on the high seas.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct that the International Maritime Bureau is part of the International Chamber of Commerce.