Big data takes to the high seas

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has grabbed a lot of headlines in recent years. Stories of ships being boarded by pirates on the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden have captured the attention of people around the globe. While piracy may be a mere curiosity to some, it has very real ramifications. The Economist recently reported that the cost alone in ransom payments made to ensure the safety of captured sailors was estimated to be $53 million each year. The exact total cost of piracy to the world economy is still up for debate, but experts agree that it is significant. Oceans Beyond Piracy's analysis concluded that the annual cost of these crimes totaled $6 billion. That figure pales in comparison to the World Bank's estimates, however, which place the annual cost of piracy at $18 billion.

Somali government officials have grappled with the problem for years. Recently, they have begun to seek out new methods to quell piracy on its seas.  Sabahi Online reported that authorities had launched an outreach program for pirates, offering them guidance and opportunities for employment. By providing avowed pirates with a financially viable alternative, officials hope they will turn away from a life of crime on the high seas.

Big data plots a safer course
One of the newest weapons government agencies have to combat piracy is big data. According to Business Insider, organizations have begun deploying analytics software tools to determine where pirates may strike next. Law enforcement and government agents have had trouble predicting pirate activity because Somali buccaneers have consistently changed their tactics and altered courses. Authorities have a wealth of information to leverage, but very little of it is in a structured and easily quantifiable format. However, developments in big data technology have allowed researchers to process unstructured data with greater ease.

Culling information from sources as expansive as incident reports, pirate communications and interviews as well as postings on social media sites, officials have leveraged big data software to predict where pirates are likely to attack and – perhaps more importantly – where they are not. With this information, ships can stay on safer courses, traversing the waters off the eastern coast of Africa without worrying that they will run afoul of a band of pirates. Hadoop big data has typically been lauded for its capacity to address the issues of tomorrow, but it turns out it can take on the problems of the past just as effectively. 

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