Explainers

Maritime Piracy

June 26, 2018    Reading Time: 9 minutes

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Image Credit: Kyle Hellerflickr

This LKI Explainer examines key aspects of maritime piracy. It will also consider options for Sri Lanka to further develop maritime security cooperation at the regional level, to combat piracy.


Contents

1. What is Maritime Piracy?
2. Current Trends
3. Responses to Maritime Piracy
4. Opportunities for Sri Lanka
5. Key Readings


1. What is Maritime Piracy?

  • The legal definition of piracy can be found in Article 1011 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It states that piracy consists of ‘any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft … on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft.’
  • However, the limitation of the UNCLOS definition, of piracy to the “high seas”, i.e. international waters beyond the territorial waters of a state, does not allow for a more flexible and holistic approach towards the problem, given that most piracy does not occur2 on the high seas.
  • The 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation3 (SUA Convention) expanded the recognised geographical scope of piracy to a state’s territorial waters. States can choose whether to apply UNCLOS or the SUA Convention in prosecuting piracy.

2. Current Trends

  • The incidence of modern maritime piracy reached its highest levels around 2010/2011.4 Although it has since declined, it remains a major security threat.
  • Piracy has recently been concentrated in East Africa, particularly around the Horn of Africa/Gulf of Aden. Rigorous anti-piracy action has led to a relative decline in that region5 but at the same time, there has been an upsurge in piracy in West Africa.
    • In 2016, there were 95 piracy incidents6 in West Africa, up from 54 in 2015.
    • In West Africa, piracy involving kidnap and ransom increased by nearly one-third7 from 2015 to 2016.
    • Oil tankers were the targets of pirates in nearly 40%8 of the incidents.
    • Unlike in the Gulf of Aden, the majority of incidents in West Africa involved armed pirates.9 – This indicates that they are better funded and organised than their Somali counterparts in East Africa.
  • Piracy in Southeast Asia, meanwhile, has decreased significantly since 2015 due to increased patrolling and regional coordination.
  • While many factors explain the high incidence of piracy around the world, two major causes are poor environmental practices and weak governance.

3. Responses to Maritime Piracy

  • There are two major ways of dealing with piracy: legal measures and security measures. Legal measures mostly focus on prosecution of piracy, i.e. what states do once they identify a pirate threat, while security measures focus on deterrence, i.e. monitoring and preventing individuals and communities from resorting to piracy.
  • The UNCLOS treaty provides the legal framework for prosecuting piracy.
    • Article 105 of UNCLOS declares that states have universal jurisdiction on the high seas to seize a ship under the control of pirates, arrest the persons on board, and seize any property on board as well. Any persons arrested in such a manner would have to be tried under the laws of the country that makes the seizure.18
    • Article 111 also gives states a right of “hot pursuit”, i.e. their vessels can pursue a ship engaging in illegal activity (such as piracy) in their territorial waters into the high seas. They must cease once the pursued ship enters the territorial waters of another state.19 
      • Nevertheless, a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions in 2008 against Somali piracy (beginning with Resolution 1816)20 seemed to allow ships pursuing pirate ships to enter Somali territorial waters.
      • This right was intended to be specific to the Somali case and therefore not a basis for customary international law.
  • Many navies face practical problems of how to prosecute pirates captured on the high seas, who cannot be easily transferred to their home jurisdictions.
    • To assist with this issue, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) developed a ‘piracy prosecution model.’21 Under this model, states bordering piracy hotspots set up transfer agreements with international anti-piracy taskforces operating in the region, to prosecute apprehended pirates apprehended by the taskforces.
  • While such legal measures are important, cooperative security measures have been the primary driver of the decline in piracy in recent years.
  • Anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden22 feature international naval task forces that patrol and escort merchant vessels, and seize any suspected pirate vessels. These include:
    • Anti-piracy operations are also present in Southeast Asia.
      • Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines recently launched joint naval patrols.26
      • Prior to this, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia participated in the Malacca Straits Patrols programme, which consisted of sea patrols, aerial patrols, and an intelligence exchange group.27
    • Besides patrolling, countries are also combating piracy by strengthening their Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).
      • MDA is defined by the International Maritime Organisation as ‘the effective understanding of any activity associated with the maritime environment that could impact security, safety, economy, or environment.’28
      • This can be achieved through activities like patrolling, but also through radar, satellites, drones, buoys, and other forms of surveillance equipment.
  • For MDA to be effective across a greater geographical area, countries must cooperate in sharing information. Sri Lanka, India, and the Maldives have signed a trilateral maritime security agreement that prioritises the enhancing of MDA.29 In the broader Indian Ocean region, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) recently released an action plan that proposes to build a ‘regional surveillance network … including sharing of data on maritime transportation systems.’30
  • Besides such national and international measures, the pirate threat has also prompted merchant vessels to hire private security teams to protect their vessels.
    • The cost of such contracted maritime security was the largest component of total costs of piracy in both East31 and West Africa32 in 2016. For example, in East Africa, USD 726.1 million33 was spent on contracted maritime security compared to USD 228.4 million34 respectively, on Navy security.

4. Opportunities for Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka is currently part of several key regional initiatives to combat piracy, including the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combatting Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) and IORA.
  • There is potential for Sri Lanka’s contribution to increase in the following ways:

5. Key Readings

Oceans Beyond Piracy.2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Executive Summary. http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/summary 

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.2018. Maritime Crime Programme – Indian Ocean. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/piracy/indian-ocean-division.html

Cardiff University and University of Seychelles. Piracy-studies.org: the research portal for maritime security. http://piracy-studies.org/

Williams, P.R. and Pressly, L.2014. ‘Maritime Piracy: A Sustainable Global Solution.’ Case Western Reserve Journal of International Lawhttps://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1035&context=jil

International Chamber of Commerce-Commercial Crime Services.2018. IMB Piracy Reporting Centre. https://www.icc-ccs.org/index.php/piracy-reporting-centre

Notes

1 United Nations. 2017. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf

2Anyiam, H.I. 2014. ‘When Piracy is Just Armed Robbery’. The Maritime Executive [online]. Accessed February 2018: https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/When-Piracy-is-Just-Armed-Robbery-2014-07-19#gs.KwPqwwE

3 United Nations. 1988. Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://www.un.org/en/sc/ctc/docs/conventions/Conv8.pdf

4 Statista. 2018. Number of pirate attacks against ships worldwide from 2009 to 2017. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://www.statista.com/statistics/266292/number-of-pirate-attacks-worldwide-since-2006/

5Sow, M. 2017. Figures of the Week: Piracy and Illegal Fishing in Somalia. Brookings Institution [online]. Accessed February 2018: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2017/04/12/figures-of-the-week-piracy-and-illegal-fishing-in-somalia/

6 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in West Africa 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/west-africa

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Robbery Against Ships in Asia 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/se-asia

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Tharoor, I. 2009. How Somalia’s Fishermen Became Pirates. Time. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1892376,00.html

14 Knaup, H. 2008. The Poor Fishermen of Somalia. Spiegel. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/prelude-to-piracy-the-poor-fishermen-of-somalia-a-594457.html

15 Ridout, T. A. n.d. Somalia is Not a State. The Huffington Post. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://www.huffingtonpost.com/timothy-a-ridout/somalia-is-not-a-state_b_894734.html

16 Okafor, U. 2014. The Nigerian Government Is a Greater Threat to its People Than Boko Haram. The Huffington Post. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/udoka-okafor/nigerian-government-corruption-_b_5686842.html

17 Council on Foreign Relations. 2009. Abu Sayyaf Group (Philippines, Islamist separatists). [online] Accessed February 2018:https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/abu-sayyaf-group-philippines-islamist-separatists

18 United Nations. (2017). United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf

19 Ibid.

20United Nations. 2008. Security Council Condemns Acts of Piracy, Armed Robbery off Somalia’s Coast, Authorizes for Six Months ‘All Necessary Means’ to Repress Such Acts. United Nations Security Council Press Release [online]. Accessed February 2018: https://www.un.org/press/en/2008/sc9344.doc.htm

21 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2014. Maritime Crime Programme – Indian Ocean. [online] Accessed February 2018: https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/piracy/indian-ocean-division.html

22 United Nations. 2017. Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2383 (2017), Security Council Renews Authorization for International Naval Forces to Fight Piracy off Coast of Somalia. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc13058.doc.htm

23 Combined Maritime Forces. 2018. CTF 150: Maritime Security. [online] Accessed February 2018: https://combinedmaritimeforces.com/ctf-150-maritime-security/

24 Combined Maritime Forces. 2018. CTF 151: Counter Piracy. [online] Accessed February 2018: https://combinedmaritimeforces.com/ctf-151-counter-piracy/

25 European Naval Force Somalia. 2017. European Naval Force Somalia Operation Atalanta. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://eunavfor.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/2017May_Booklet-Eng.pdf

26Chan, F. and Soeriaatmadja, W. 2017. ‘Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines launch joint operations in Sulu Sea to tackle terrorism, transnational crimes’. Straits Times [online]. Accessed February 2018: https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/indonesia-malaysia-and-philippines-launch-joint-operations-in-sulu-sea-to-tackle-terrorism

27 Lean, C. K. S. 2016. CO16091 | The Malacca Strait Patrols: Finding Common Ground. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/co16091-the-malacca-strait-patrols-finding-common-ground/#.Wn0upVT1XdQ

28 International Maritime Organisation. 2010. Amendments to the International Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue (IAMSAR) Manual. [online] Accessed February 2018:http://www.imo.org/blast/blastDataHelper.asp?data_id=29093&filename=1367.pdf

29Saberwal, A. 2016. Time to Revitalise and Expand the Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives. Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://idsa.in/idsacomments/trilateral-maritime-security-cooperation-india-sri-lanka-maldives_asaberwal_220316

30Indian Ocean Rim Association. 2017. IORA Action Plan 2017-2021. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia. [online] Accessed February 2018:http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/publications/Documents/iora-action-plan-2017-2021.pdf

31 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in East Africa 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/east-africa

32 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in West Africa 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/west-africa

33 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in East Africa 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/east-africa

34 Oceans Beyond Piracy. 2016. The State of Maritime Piracy 2016: Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in West Africa 2016. [online] Accessed January 2018: http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/reports/sop/west-africa

35Waidyatilake, B. 2017. Maintaining Momentum: Sri Lanka’s Strategy in the Indian Ocean Rim Association South Asian Voices. [online] Accessed February 2018:https://southasianvoices.org/maintaining-momentum-sri-lankas-strategy-iora/

36 Saberwal, A. 2016. Time to Revitalise and Expand the Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

37 Christopher, C. 2017. Intelligence Coordination Centre to combat transnational crime in South Asia. The Sunday Times. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/171119/news/intelligence-coordination-centre-to-combat-transnational-crime-in-south-asia-269351.html

38 Thomas, K. C. 2017. Regional drug intelligence centre to be set up Facilitated by UNODC. Ceylon Today. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=34820

39 Edirisinghe, R. 2008. Launching of 100th indigenous special designed fighting boat by the Sri Lanka Navy. The Asian Tribune. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/13183

40Povlock, P.A. 2011. ‘A Guerrilla War at Sea: The Sri Lankan Civil War’. Small Wars Journal [online}. Accessed February 2018: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a549049.pdf

41Defenceweb. 2016. Nigeria receives patrol boats from Sri Lanka. Defenceweb [online]. Accessed February 2018: http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=43401%3Anigeria-receives-patrol-boats-from-sri-lanka&catid=51%3ASea&Itemid=106

42 Fish, T. 2014. Sri Lankan Navy is being re-shaped says Vice-Admiral Colambage. Re-printed in Thuppahi’s Blog from Jane’s Defence Weekly. [online] Accessed February 2018: https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/sri-lankan-navy-is-being-re-shaped-says-vice-admiral-columbage/

43 Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents. 2017. Importance of maritime security in journey to become a maritime hub. The Daily Mirror. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/Importance-of-maritime-security-in-journey-to-become-a-maritime-hub-142522.html

44 The Island. 2017. Navy Chief: Navy to increase sea marshals for foreign ships. [online] Accessed February 2018: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=170546

Year:

  • 2018

Author:

  • Barana Waidyatilake and Nimaya Mallikahewa

Languages:

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