According to data gathered by the International Maritime Bureau, (attempted) piracy was reported in 77 countries in the period 1998–2009. However, the intensity of the piracy problem varies significantly and the number of pirate hotspots is limited. Countries considered notable piracy hotspots include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and, most importantly, Somalia.
Since 2005, around 200 ships have been hijacked and held for ransom by Somali pirates. If we consider that each of these ships has a crew of 20, this means that up to 4000 sailors have been taken hostage. Pirates have therefore had a great impact on the level of security in the Horn of Africa and there is some evidence that they have affected both the cost and quantity of shipping through the region.
A ship built in Japan, owned by a brass-plate company in Malta, controlled by an Italian, chartered by the French, skippered by a Norwegian, crewed by Indians, registered in Panama, etc. etc. is attacked while transiting an international waterway in Indonesian territory. So – if the pirates ever get arrested – who exactly is in charge of prosecuting them?
Some legal scholars recommend that captured pirates should be prosecuted in the region where they are arrested. Unfortunately, countries that lack the capacity to secure their waters often also have limited resources for prosecution. If more than one country is interested in prosecuting the arrested pirates, it is not immediately clear which country’s judiciary system should be applied. The international legal framework remains vague and sometimes even contradictory. And it starts with the definition, around which there is no consensus: The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as 1) an act of violence 2) conducted on the high seas 3) against another vessel 4) and for private gain; while the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) defines it as 1) intentionally seizing or damaging a ship or 2) attempting to seize or damage a ship.
Pirates in the Indian Ocean have struck once again: Within two days, groups of pirates hijacked two more tankers, bringing the total of ships being held hostage in the region to a whopping 30 (with 700 crew members on board).
And the latest hijackings are likely to net the pirates more money than ever, with one of the Greek-owned tankers carrying more than $200 million (yes, MILLION) worth of oil. In addition to the human cost of these tragedies, the cost to the global oil market is potentially significant as it tightens already uncomfortable choking points in the transfer of oil from the Middle East to the rest of the world. Although pirate attacks are getting less frequent, their audacity, sophistication and sheer reach is growing as funds available to pirate groups in Somalia in particular have mushroomed.
“What we are dealing with here is a business model that is so good, that for a matter of tens of thousands of dollars you can put together a pirate action group, you can send it to sea and if you are lucky and hit the jackpot, you can come back with a vessel that within six months will bring you a return of nine-and-a-half million dollars. We are the first to admit we are not deterring piracy.”
So, as more money flows to pirates and international naval task forces continue to struggle to secure shipping lanes that keep the world economy moving, the question arises: Is piracy in the Indian Ocean and in the Gulf of Aden a scourge that is here to stay? And if naval task forces can do little else except damage control, should the international community not be looking to address the root causes of the lawlessness and misery that drives piracy in the region?
Isn’t it time that the international community take another hard look at what is happening in Somalia and to the Somali people?
For a wealth of background information and analysis on this issue, see our Digital Library holdings under the keyword ‘Piracy on the High Seas‘.
It seems like ACTA negotiators have finally gone one step in the direction of transparency. After a week of negotiations in Wellington (NZ), they announced on Friday that the draft treaty would be made public next Wednesday. Or maybe they just learned their lesson after repeated leaks.
As you might expect, the negotiating parties are a western club (US, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the EU and Switzerland) with a few ‘like-minded’ friends (Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, Morocco).
ACTA has faced a storm of criticism from internet users. Here is a little summary of the main issues at stake:
In late July, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd set out for a hike in the mountainous border region between Iraq and Iran. The three hikers had been warned not to hike in this area, as the border between the two countries is not clearly marked. The hikers went anyway – and they were promptly detained by Iranian border guards when they unintentionally crossed into Iran.
The trio’s recklessness played into the hands of the Iranian government. The three Americans have become a kind of cheap trump card for Tehran, which claims that the hikers are ‘spies’ sent by the reviled US. The incident gave the Iranian government a convenient pretext to distract from domestic problems and divert popular attention toward a common outside enemy.
Meanwhile, there is the story of the adventurous British yachting couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who set out on a dangerous voyage in the pirate-infested waters of East Africa. They had also been warned. The manager of the yacht club in the Seychelles from where the Chandlers disembarked had strongly advised them against undertaking their planned journey to the African mainland due to pirate activity. They went anyway. And the pirates caught them.
For the pirates, the two Brits are a valuable prize – they are citizens of a wealthy country in exchange for whom a lucrative ransom can be expected.
Adventure tourism is in vogue. Perhaps life has become too predictable, too mundane, too pedestrian inside the protected cocoon of western consumer societies. So at least in our spare time, some of us like to go for the real adventure and smell real danger.
But what if something goes wrong? What if you get caught or kidnapped?
No worries. Your government will do everything within its power to bail you out.