Tag Archive | "pirates"

Global Piracy Still a Major Problem FINAL

Critical Analysis: Global Piracy Still a Major Problem

Nigerian gangs rock West African waters. (Radio Netherlands Worldwide)

News of global piracy has faded into the background of the international arena for some, but many countries are still dealing with it. While an international maritime anti-fraud agency has reported a 54 percent reduction in piracy attacks off the Somali coast, recent attacks show that piracy is still a major global problem. The same anti-fraud agency that reported the reduction, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), also reported that piracy continues to cost global trade up to 12 billion dollars annually. Furthermore, the threat has increased in areas that once had relatively low levels of pirate attacks.

Attacks have occurred as recently as this past week. On Monday, October 15, Nigerian pirates attacked a French cargo vessel bound for the Nigerian port of Onne. While the cargo vessel safely docked at the port, authorities learned that the pirates had actually kidnapped six Russians and one Estonian. Nigerian Special Forces are tirelessly working with Russia and Estonia to locate the kidnapped crewmembers, although their whereabouts remain unknown.

This latest attack near the Niger Delta is an example of an alarming trend of increased piracy in West Africa. While there were only 25 incidents of piracy reported in the region last year, 32 incidents of piracy had already been reported by this past July. There has also been an increased level of violence along with the increased number of attacks. Guns were reported in at least 20 of the 32 incidents, and two have been killed as a result of these attacks. Many of these attacks are also occurring at greater distances from the coast, suggesting the use of more sophisticated vessels in perpetrating these attacks.

Somali piracy also remains a problem. According to Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the IMB, “Somali pirate attacks cover a vast area, from the Southern Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, and Gulf of Oman to the Arabian Sea and Somali Basin, threatening all shipping routes in the northwest Indian Ocean.” Also, as of June 2012, Somali pirates still held a significant number of crewmembers and vessels hostage. Although, as mentioned above, there has been a decline in the number of Somali pirate attacks from last year, the level of violence has not decreased. In March, for example, Somali pirates captured a Taiwanese fishing boat in the waters of the Seychelles Islands and killed the Taiwanese captain two days later. These Somali pirates are still holding the crewmembers of this vessel hostage.

Despite the increase in violence and attacks in certain regions, there has been much progress in the global effort against piracy. More nations are beginning to prosecute pirates, and military and naval efforts against pirates have significantly increased. Recently, a Kenyan Court of Appeals overturned a decision precluding the trial of Somali pirates in Kenya. A judge had previously ruled that Kenya lacked jurisdiction; however, the Court ruled that every State has an interest to try crimes such as piracy. Germany also convicted ten Somali pirates on October 19, after an almost two-year long trial, for seizing a freighter. Furthermore, efforts to locate and stop piracy have increased beyond NATO and EU-led efforts, with countries such as the United States and France increasing enforcement and surveillance.

 Bailey Woods is a 2L and a staff editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy


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The Human Cost of Piracy

The Human Cost of Somali Piracy

The Human Cost of Piracy

The Human Cost of Piracy

Seafarers face increasing violence as they transit the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, but they have limited legal protection or recourse from the crimes committed against them at sea. Since the resurgence of maritime piracy off the Horn of Africa in 2007, hundreds of vessels have been hijacked and thousands of seafarers taken hostage by Somalis seeking to secure lucrative ransom payments. In our analysis of the human cost of Somali piracy, we found that violence against seafarers by Somali pirates is escalating, but little is being done to openly measure and document these crimes.


Oceans are used by multiple stakeholders with divergent and sometimes conflicting interests. Crimes committed aboard or against vessels are subject to the laws of the flag state, however some flag states may not have the capacity or the political will to fully protect seafarers through prosecution and law enforcement. Furthermore, activities occurring on the high seas fall outside the jurisdiction of any single nation; legal protection for the oceans and those who work on them therefore require a legitimate international legal framework accompanied by domestic implementation of international obligations.

International maritime law exists under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), both of which are broadly ratified. Under UNCLOS, states have a duty to cooperate through active measures against piracy, and SUA requires parties to extradite or submit offenders to their competent authorities for prosecution. In combination, these conventions appear to require states to prosecute pirates. Despite this ostensibly robust legal regime for prosecuting pirates, few nations have actually done so. As a result, there is no effective legal deterrence to piracy, leaving pirates free to commit crimes at sea with little to no risk of detention.
In order to understand the full extent of the crimes committed by Somali pirates and the cost of those actions to seafarers, we quantified the total number of seafarers attacked or taken hostage. Our study’s findings indicate that during the course of 2010:

  • 4,185 seafarers were attacked with firearms and rocket propelled grenades
  • 342 seafarers took refuge in a reinforced security room (“citadel”) when pirates boarded, from which they were rescued by naval forces
  • 1,090 seafarers were taken hostage and held captive for an average of five months
  • 516 seafarers were used as human shields
  • As many as 488 seafarers were subjected to abuse or torture

The cost of piracy is high for seafarers. Even in the case of an “unsuccessful” attack where pirates are not able to hijack the vessel, seafarers are still exposed to weapon fire and explosives aimed directly at their place of work. If pirates board a vessel, the crew may be able to take shelter in a citadel; however, this, too, is a dangerous and traumatic experience in which the crew awaits rescue for anywhere from hours to days while pirates try to violently force their way inside. If pirates successfully capture a ship, seafarers are held against their will for months on end during which time they face physical and psychological violence from the pirates, limited access to food and water, uncertainty about their fate, and risk of death.

As Andrew Shapiro, US Assistant Secretary of State, made clear in a speech in March of 2011, “the attacks are more ruthless, more violent, and wider ranging. Hostages have been tortured and used as human shields.” However, official data is only available on the initial incident, whether it is an attack, boarding, or hijacking. This limited categorization of pirate activities undervalues the dangers and trauma faced by seafarers by limiting the description of their ordeal to “hijacking.”

One obstacle that restricts the protection of seafarers is the lack of a single, reliable source to inform seafarers and others of how seafarers are treated during captivity, and how widespread abusive tactics are amongst the various pirate gangs. Seafarers deserve to know the full extent of the risks they face when transiting pirated waters. In the words of a seafarer from the MV UBT Ocean, which was held by pirates for more than four months, during which time crewmembers were reportedly tortured and abused, “all the seafarers must be fully aware of this danger and risk in crossing the Indian Ocean.” While open source news stories and interviews provided enough information to determine the approximate number of seafarers abused or used as human shields, there is no way to independently verify if these figures represent the true extent of the abuse. Our study makes clear that the abuse is alarmingly common, but the lack of more comprehensive reporting prevents the true cost from being understood.

Developing reliable compliance with international agreements and increased protection for the victims of piracy is especially difficult because the maritime industry is fragmented by nationality at every level. Ship owner, ship manager, flag state, cargo owner, and crewmembers may all come from different countries. For example, seafarers taken hostage in 2010 came from at least 30 different countries, the majority of which were developing nations. As a result of this great diversity wherein many different actors and stakeholders bear responsibility for monitoring and protecting seafarers, no single country or group is held accountable. The end result is that seafarers as a whole do not have a central, reliable organization to turn to for legal protection.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law