Maritime piracy: causes, stakes and mechanisms to fight the phenomenon

Dating back to navigation, maritime piracy thrived during the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries thanks to the boosting commercial trades following the opening of new maritime routes and as a result to the rivalry between empires for the control of the newly-conquered territories and their wealth.

maritime piracyStill making the news, piracy, under its various forms, is regarded as a major concern for international maritime trade, and is the subject of top-level international political consultation on the struggle against this non-conventional threat.

It is regulated by two international legal provisions:

  • The Montego Bay Convention (1982) which readopts the same terms as the 1958 Geneva Convention on High Sea, namely its article 101 which defines piracy as: «an illicit act of violence or detention or any other depravity committed by the crew or the passengers of a ship, acting for private purposes, against a ship or against individuals or property on board in high sea or any place that is subject to no country's jurisdiction».

This definition, which left out acts committed in territorial waters, that is, 80% of piracy acts, has a limited significance.

  • The 1988 Convention relative to the repression on illicit acts against the security of maritime navigation.
    This purview has been completed in 2002 by the Solas Convention which put in place an International Code for the Security of Ships and Ports (International Ship and Ports Security, ISPS).

Maritime piracy resurgence: causes and stakes

According to specialized organizations, the increase in maritime piracy risks and its stakes is accounted for by several factors:

  • Cultural and geographic factors: In some areas, namely in the China Sea, piracy is a traditional activity inherent in the local culture. It is accounted for by the geographic configuration: the coast layout, straits' narrowness, the existence of thousands of isles providing so many markers and proximity to several neighboring territorial waters.
  • Legal and political factors: The geopolitical instability in certain areas due to armed separatist movements, the ties with organized crime, the absence of an adequate legal framework.
  • Socio–economic factors: Economic growth, especially in South-East Asia, has increased the volume of maritime traffic, which generates considerable material for isolated targets both accessible and lucrative, the globalization of trade exchange and financial flow, the generalized spread of corruption.
  • Technological factors: The technological breakthroughs, which brought about the reduction of commercial ships' crews, have considerably increased the pirates' intervention capacities in terms of means of locating, mobility and firing power.

piraterie-maritimeAlthough the impact of maritime piracy is rather low in terms of casualties, its strategic and commercial stakes remain considerably high.

The most serious risks being: the neutralization of a maritime route essential to the world supply in hydrocarbons, major ecological disasters, the use, for terrorist purposes, of high jacked ships as weapons, the disturbance of commercial flow and the economic losses that ensue.

Piracy in high sea accounts for the estimated financial losses of several billion USD per year, and such risks are likely to pick up leading to an increase in the maritime insurance premiums, and thus, a rise in transportion costs.

Mechanisms and means of fighting maritime piracy

Faced with the threat, governments and international organizations have joined efforts to lay out common defense strategies. The initiatives aim at creating and consolidating the system of prevention and struggle against maritime piracy.

Key participants

  • The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), created in 1981, depends upon the International Chamber of Commerce. It is entrusted with the struggle against piracy and illegal practices in high sea.
  • The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) which has a regulatory task, is in charge of problems related to navigation security.
  • The Piracy Reporting Center, created in 1992 in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), has an operational role in terms of research and assistance to high jacked boats. It is endowed with an information system combining radars and satellites, the Marine Electronic Highway, for the surveillance of the Malacca Strait.
  • The States: mainly concerned, the member countries in the (ASEAN) (the Association of South East Asian nations) are joining hands to put in place mixed surveillance patrols, double military maneuvers, follow pirated ships in each of the country's respective territorial waters.

Most of the piracy acts are committed against anchor ships (anchorages) in ports and within territorial waters .

In the same fashion, numerous private security agencies are investing in this segment. They provide insurers, ship owners and professionals with the following:

  • databases and alarm and security systems,
  • programs to uphold crew competence for (SSO) (Ship Security officer),
  • armed escorts and on-board agents whose tasks are to enforce security rules as stipulated by the IMO (The International Maritime Organization),
  • the training of internal SSA (ship security assessment) instructors within the client's company.

Nevertheless, the presence of weapons on board commercial vessels accounts for additional risks.

Maritime piracy: a profitable business

Modern piracy has adapted to technology while its objectives remained unchanged: the abduction of commercial ships and the looting of their loads and their resale after undergoing some disguise and registration under a false identity. Such operations turn the search for abducted ships into a search for «phantom ships», which Lloyd's investigators have tracked over the world seas, and 99% of which are recovered in China Sea.

Nowadays, maritime piracy has become a lucrative business backed up by organized crime and by the technological facilities of global trade, which is indeed a more and more sophisticated and spectacular activity.

The planet's hot spots

Africa and the Red Sea: Nigeria, Somalia, Aden Gulf, Tanzania, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, Cameroon.

South America and Caribbean: Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Peru, Venezuela.

South East Asia and the Indian Ocean: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam.

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