International Cooperation in Fighting High Sea Piracy

Running Head: International Cooperation in Fighting High Sea Piracy


International Cooperation in Fighting High Sea Piracy









It can not be disputed that the modern day piracy is a major challenge to the sea transport as well as the shipping industry. The inability to combat these activities and address the same in an effective manner has raised various concerns. The implications of this have been far reaching as lives and resources have been lost. Efforts made by individual states in the past have been fruitless and piracy activities continue to soar. The global population is faced with the challenge of initiating viable approaches that would counter the malpractice effectively. The need to integrate and coordinate the global efforts in this regard through cooperation is the main concern of this study. It is argued that cooperation between governments and states is the best option to address maritime piracy. However, this has not been easy because of the various social economic, politico and historical challenges that undermine the successful implementation of the process. An expedient and unilateral arrangement by few states towards this cause can also be effective but it is likely to face resistance and/or raise suspicion.

Keywords: piracy control, cooperation, maritime piracy



The upsurge of maritime piracy has raised significant concerns since the early 1990s. Security studies contend that indeed, modern day piracy has greatly compromised the safety of the sea. In response to this, the International Maritime Bureau was established in Paris to address piracy issues and coordinate all activities related to this. According to its annual report, acts of piracy are complex and well coordinated. They are a security threat not only to the seamen, but to their vessels and cargo too. Independent states have undertaken practical efforts to address the issue but the acts have been seemingly overwhelming. Statistical evidence affirms that despite the regional partnerships and notable international efforts, piracy has not been completely eliminated. Recent reports underscore distinct regional differences with regard to piracy challenges and solutions that are employed in countering the practice.

The Southeast Asian region has experienced a decrease in piracy because of they have the economic capacity, operational expertise and legal regimes that deal with the issue effectively. In contrast, lawlessness, poverty and lack of maritime expertise and capability have undermined the execution of similar efforts in the Gulf of Eden. Likewise, individual states have taken efforts to address the issue but most of these have been futile. It is ascertained that maritime piracy is a complex issue that requires equally multifaceted approaches to address it in an effective manner. The fragmentation of efforts has been partly blamed for the resurgence of the practice in the last five years. International cooperation presents the most ideal approach of fighting piracy in a sustainable manner. The characteristic coordination of efforts, assumption of responsibilities and mobilization of key resources would address the inherent inconsistencies that compromise the current efforts in fighting this vice.

Historical Background

Piracy is s social phenomenon that dates back in 500 BC (Cordingly, 1997). Historical documentation ascertains that the Romans and the Greeks were known as pirates. In particular, they attacked cargo ships that plied the Mediterranean Sea.  They employed small and fast ships to attack their enemy. These also had shallow bottoms that enabled the attackers to maneuver their way through the process easily. This practice was evident in the northern Europe where Vikings made raids on British settlements. They employed shift long ships to travel through rivers and make attacks using two edged swords. In his review, Herrmann (2004) asserts that the discovery of America attracted the pirates to the Caribbean. Attackers made raids on galleons that contained significant quantities of treasure and moved at a relatively slow pace. This is because their movement was entirely dependent on the speed of the wind. Pirates were usually heavily armed than their targets and therefore made their attacks with ease. During this period a camp was built at Port Royal that comprised of social misfits such as drunkards, runaway slaves and pickpockets.

With time, the Europeans established navies to deal with maritime crime when the attacks of the pirates became more pronounced. Unlike in the past when they used slow moving ships, the steam powered ships that had been invented at this particular time enabled them to pursue the attackers and capture them accordingly. The handsome reward that was usually given to individuals who captured the attackers inspired very many people to contribute to this cause. Punishment for piracy during this period was depended on the age of an individual. Goodman (1999) asserts that the young persons were usually pardoned but their older counterparts were imprisoned in England. However, very few made it to this destination as a significant percentage of them were executed along the way.

Modern populations still face various challenges that emanate from this practice. However, unlike the traditional pirates, the modern ones are more dangerous and use sophisticated gadgets such as automatic riffles, speed boats and machine guns. Their coordination and communication is also advanced as plans are made in advance and communication made possible through portable cellular phones and radios. Furthermore, they make attacks very quickly and while some leave with valuables, others take the crewmen hostage and demand for a huge ransom.

Modern Age Piracy

Herrmann (2004) ascertains that piracy remains a single main problem to the shipping industry and sea transport. It is estimated that a significant sixteen trillion dollars has so far been lost in ransom. The areas that have been significantly affected by this include the Strait of Malacca, The Somali Coast, the Indian Ocean and Singapore. It is estimated that these regions use a total of close to 50000 commercial ships on an annual basis (Lehr, 2006). A recent increase in piracy along the Somali coast prompted the government of the United States to make interventions accordingly.

Davis (2008) cites that modern day pirates prefer use of small boats to make attacks. They capitalize on the relative small number of the crewmen found on large ships. In addition to this, they employ large vessels that offer the necessary support and supplies to the small boats that make attacks. They also take advantage of the times when the modern ships reduce their speed because of congestion on the route. Notably, major routes have grown very busy because of an increase in commercial activities. Modern piracy has also been linked to organized-crime syndicates as well as organized illegal gangs.

Current Trends and Implications

According to the International Maritime Bureau, piracy constitutes boarding of a vessel with the intention of committing theft and/or any other crime using force. Statistical evidence shows that piracy has increased by ten percent in the last three years. In addition, it is indicated that these piracy acts were characterized by an increased degree of violence with close to thirty five percent of these reporting employment of guns. In his review, Girard (2006) ascertains that Africa is reportedly emerging as a piracy hotspot. Southeast Asia that was previously considered a notorious zone with respect to this practice has exhibited a steady decrease since 2003. In this respect, it is worth acknowledging that the significant rise in the cases is attributed to the recent attacks in Nigerian and Somali waters.

The Gosse (2007) cites that the attacks experienced in Indonesian waters dropped drastically from 123 cases in 2003 to 44 in 2007. In Malacca Strait, cases plunged from twenty eight to seven. It is posited that this region experienced an increase in piracy during the 1990s, because of political instability, Asian financial crisis and acute unemployment in Indonesia. These had far reaching implications on the economic welfare of the population as it increased their vulnerability to engagement in numerous crimes with the most profound being piracy. However, regional and international technical and financial assistance from Japan and the United States throughout the 1990s and at the beginning of this decade had enabled the region to address the issue accordingly. The Indonesian government has particularly shown exemplary efforts in curbing poverty in its coastal region.

Moreover, Girard (2006) indicates that the country has also enhanced law enforcement in the affected regions in a bit to curb the practice. The United States has played a central role in encouraging and empowering the country to execute these major reforms. In particular, it has provided the Indonesian government and law enforcement agencies with patrol boats to be employed in security maintenance operations in the region. Further, there has been a rise in regional cooperation between Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand towards addressing the issue. Specifically, the “eye in the sky” initiative by these countries has been instrumental in enhancing air surveillance on Malacca Strait

Beal (2007) cites Regional Cooperation Agreement in Combating Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) that was enforced in 2006 as another commendable effort that reflects regional cooperation in addressing maritime piracy. This agreement seeks to enhance cooperation within governments in Asean+3 countries. These include governments of Bangladesh, India and Srilanka. These multilateral agreements have been effective in fighting the practice as efforts have been pooled together, operations coordinated and communication enhanced. Coupled with the strategies to address underlying concerns such as poverty and lack of resources, these countries have succeeded in reducing the incidences of pirate attack significantly.

In contrast, Africa has experienced an increase in piracy acts in the last ten years. Statistics presented by McNicholas (2007) ascertain that Somali in particular reported a total o f 31 piracy acts in 2007, down from 10 the previous year. Of these, eleven were identified as hijackings and a total of 153 crewmen were held hostage. These have changed with time and in 2009, a total of 11 ships were reported to have been hijacked and 815 mariners taken hostage. Several million dollars were paid in ransom for their release.

Nigeria on the other hand reported 42 incidents in 2007, indicating a significant rise from only 12 incidents in 2007 (McNicholas, 2007). Notably, the pirates were heavily armed and reported to be driven by political motives. Lack of effective law enforcement has been implicated for the current increase of piracy cases in this region. In this respect, Beal (2007) explains that the characteristic lawlessness enabled the pirates to access heavy arms, organize gangs and attack maritime vessel in the sea. Furthermore, economic, political and military instability have further provided an ambient environment for execution of these activities. Specifically, shortage of effective naval capacity presents severe challenges in fighting this practice to the respective countries. Lack of political will has undermined previous international efforts to address the issue accordingly. This is due to the fact that much as the international community can make efforts to address the issue, individual states need to be at the center stage because they have a better understanding of the underlying causes and dynamics.

International Cooperation

Piracy is considered an international crime that affects global countries significantly. As such, the responsibility to fight the same should be assumed by every nation. From a legal perspective, every country is mandated to not only establish jurisdiction but also punish the perpetrators irrespective of their nationality and the vessels and victims involved. This provision is ingrained in the customary law and in treaties like the Geneva Convention on high Seas of 1958 and the United Nations Conventions of sea and the Law of 1982. In his review, Davis (2008) indicates that the United Nations Security Counsel Resolutions of 1846 and 1851 have also been extended to apprehend any suspected pirates on the Somali shore.

Notably, employment of legal authority alone has not yielded desirable results as piracy activities have continued to be experienced. In this consideration, Sweet (2005) ascertains that efforts to fight this form of crime can only be effective if they are coordinated within international agencies and bodies that deal with law enforcement. These should be designed in such a way that they address the unique regional problems that are associated with this practice. Woodard (2007) ascertains that challenges that are related to evidence collection can only be addressed effectively by the international community. This is because international agencies and efforts assume objectivity when dealing with such issues.

The prosecution of criminals at a state level has also been compounded by various complexities. Despite having a well defined constitution and being governed by international treaties that are indicated above, some countries lack the ideal infrastructure at the national level to enforce such concerns. In particular, such countries tend to be characterized by political instability that makes it difficult to enforce the laws in an effective manner. Bradford (2004) argues that in some instances, the countries of respective pirates offer different forms of support to their nationals irrespective of their involvement in piracy. They not only provide access to heavy arms but also offer them physical protection and refuge. As such, they can not be relied upon to fight piracy individually. In such instances, it becomes imperative for the international community to make practical efforts.

International coordination is ideal because it also puts in consideration the interests of other stake holders that could be affected by the piracy in various ways. These include the state of the vessels and the nationality of the mariners. They are provided with vital protection and their respective countries are assisted by the international community in dealing with the issue. Support in this regard takes the forms of providing protection to the mariners that are held in hostage, expertise and legal advice and placing sanctions on the states of the pirates (Aleko, 1991). In addition, they provide resources such as vessels for operation and finances for mobilization of efforts at a state level. In cases where the hostages are killed, the international community helps in compensation of the affected individuals and their families.

Leeson (2007) contends that the efforts to deter and counter piracy activities can be effectively addressed through the coordination of efforts by the international security agents, commercial shipping industry and different non profit making organizations. For instance, the efforts of the International Maritime Organization in addressing the concerns related to piracy have been significant. After the September eleventh attacks, it developed an International Ship and Port Facility Security. This seeks to provide protection to the international shipping acts against terrorism. It provides an ideal framework that is used in risk evaluation. This enables state governments to make timely evaluation basing on threats and ascertain their vulnerability and security levels. This then enables the countries to take strict security measures to address the perceived risk in a timely manner.

Further, Cawthorne (2004) ascertains that International Maritime Organization has enhanced collaborations and partnerships through the enhancement of strict adherence to the treaties that are used in addressing piracy issues. In order to effectively address piracy in Somali coast, it adopted resolution A. 1002 (25). This prescribed that regional African states need to develop and conclude a treaty that seeks to deter, prevent and suppress piracy.

So far, it can be ascertained that the partnerships between the United States and member states to fight piracy along the Somali coast has yielded significant results and can be considered to have been successful. To begin with, Gosse (2007) indicates that in 1996, the bulk Carrier M/V Delta Ranger was attacked by the Somali pirates using AK47 guns and grenade launchers that are rocket propelled. However, this attack was disrupted by warship that freed sixteen Indian captives and took ten pirates. Later, the pirates were taken to Mombasa Kenya where they were convicted of piracy and sentenced accordingly to seven years of confinement. This is an ideal illustration of the importance of international cooperation. It was a successful anti piracy operation that yielded beneficial effects.

Lehr (2006) asserts that this prompted the review of Maritime and International law and policy. It was conducted by the Pentagon Navy Lawyers and the subsequent proposal sought to articulate the interests of the United States in fighting maritime piracy. This culminated in the development of a comprehensive policy that ascertains the legal and diplomatic activities that are geared towards fighting piracy. It was later signed by the president and enacted as a legal policy in 2007. The inherent goals and objectives of this policy constitute preservation of the marine’s freedom, punishing the pirates through criminal prosecution, deterring piracy by providing maritime force and undertaking merchant ship vulnerability evaluations.

International cooperation encourages and supports regional efforts in fighting piracy. In this regard, Goodman (1999) indicates that the international community achieves this by providing various incentives in terms of education and training as well as financial resources to the regional states that are willing to partner in fighting piracy. Cooperation culminates in the development and maintenance of effective regional centers that are then employed in coordination of vital security activities within the region. In his research, Liss (2003) ascertains that such centers are impetrative in enhancing information flow within the region. This ensures effective execution of relevant counter piracy activities.

The expansive geographic nature of the maritime domains also inhibits effective governance by a single state. For example the gulf of Eden alone covers millions of square miles. More over, it is a busy communication route that hosts close to 20,000 ships on an annual basis. It is an important route for shipping activities and it supports trade activities between Europe, North America, Middle East and South America. In this consideration, Chalk (1998) asserts that governance of such a busy route can be overwhelming for a single state. Specifically, the respective country might not have sufficient resources to enforce the security issues. Furthermore it is worth noting that ships using this route are diversified and are sourced from different economic and cultural backgrounds. Coordination of activities amongst them would require a clear understanding of these vital concerns. The comprehensive nature of international coordination addresses this concern in an effective manner.

Several authors of whom Menefee (1996) is represented affirm that the international coordination formulates, implements and enforces vital policies that guide the execution of punishment to the pirates. Usually, these policies and agreements are formulated through a consultative process that involves all stakeholders. Thus it incorporates vital social and cultural concerns regarding the conventional punishments that are employed by various states. The resultant policy is integrative and acceptable by all partners. Its utilization in this respect yields maximal impacts as it is usually sustainable.

Challenges of International Cooperation

The establishment and implementation of an international law can be considered a major breakthrough for the international community in fighting piracy. However, it is notable that effective implementation and enforcement of this has been compounded by various issues. Seemingly, the law has not outlined a distinct and effective procedure of dealing with the captured pirates especially those along the Gulf of Eden.  Once the pirates are captured and labeled as ‘persons under control’, Burnett (2002) indicates that there are limited options to punish them accordingly.  Furthermore, the international law does not offer provisions regarding the treatment of witnesses, victims and other individuals that could be injured during piracy act (Koknar, 2006). Determination of the state that should assume the responsibility of tying suspects has particularly been vexing.

In his review, Langewiesche (2004) notes that counter piracy issues are interwoven and intricate and therefore require a comprehensive policy to deal with all its facets. For instance, a vessel that is attacked by the pirates from Somali can be registered under a company that is owned by a corporation in a different state like the United Arab Emirates. Its crewmen can then constitute of persons from different nationalities such as Pakistan and the Philippines. Further, the bulk being transported by this vessel could be owned by companies or organizations from a different country like Sirius star that was registered in Liberia although it is owned by Aramco which is found in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore the attack could have then been disrupted by a warship that also comes from a different country. Seemingly, all these stakeholders have different tactics as well as rules that govern and direct their decision making in such an environment. In cases where the ship is attacked on high seas that do not have any for of jurisdiction, it is certain that any state can take the responsibility. T he country that assumes this might decide to detain the pirates, seize the vessel and submit the cargo to its local courts or law enforcement agencies. This intricate web of activities can make the case under review to take various months for the issue to be resolved and goods returned to the owner. The relative losses are likely to have adverse effects on the welfare of some of the stakeholders. This presents an ideal illustration of the piracy process that highlights the importance of standardization of international agreements.

Apart from the inconsistencies in the application of the desirable policies, efforts for cooperation and establishment of effective measures to counter the practice have faced multiple social, economic and political challenges that are intricate and augmenting in nature. To begin with, Kokrar (2006) cites that the stakeholders in this have experienced a clash in interest that has made certain parties to back down. These can be categorized in four main classes that include conflicts between private and public interests, conflicts between two different public considerations, national conflicts that include varying considerations of security and safety and domestic conflicts within the affected country.

Conflicts between private and public interests are reflected in different ways within the nation’s plan to address maritime piracy. In this respect, it is worth acknowledging that the crewmen in a given ship as well as pirates are drawn from diverse backgrounds. As much as there is a dire need to protect the lives of individuals on board, public interest with regard to the need to comply with searching, detaining, trying, investigating, punishing and convicting pirates should also be upheld. Beal (2007) asserts that some procedures are costly and very difficult. This has made most countries to refrain from participating in global cooperation. The most affected states in this case have been the African nations whose economies do not allow them to pursue such elaborate procedures. However, as indicated earlier, this can be countered through establishment of standard rules and practices that can be employed in this respect. Formulation of this needs intensive consultations between the affected governments.

More controversies have also been associated with the cost of implementing an efficient piracy control system at a state level. In this, conflicts stem from the need to protect small groups such as cargo owners, insurers, vessel owners and mariners and the costs that the public has to incur. In his research, Gosse (2007) indicates that this has affected almost all states and has in return compromised their ability to engage in vital international efforts that seek to establish a powerful system to combat the practice. Further it is indicated that some cargo companies tend to establish their individual armies to provide relevant protection. However global countries have shown reluctance in allowing such armies in their waters as this poses serious threats to the security as well as sovereignty of such countries. Security studies also point out that the reluctance stems from the suspicion that such practices can be employed by illegal gangs to access the waters of other states.

The differing public interests have also generated conflicts that have then undermined international cooperation in fighting maritime piracy. Girard (2006) ascertained that combating piracy has economic benefits on certain states and are considered priorities by respective governments. In particular, it is indicated that this has long-term benefits on the countries whose economies are depended on sea shipping. Examples in this regard constitute states that are found along the Malacca traits. However, it should be appreciated that there are also inherent short term public interests that governments pay particular attention to. This limits the expenditure of the government to immediate public interests. This is also compounded by the fact that such vessels are in most cases owned by foreigners. Thus it presents a dilemma where the government is expected to choose between the interests of the locals and those of the foreigners.

The national conflicts have also been a major deterrence on cooperation. To start with, Gosse (2007) ascertains that the territorial claims made by neighboring states have undermined any for of cooperation. This occurs when countries are chasing pirates across maritime boundaries. These claims compromise this as states exhibit some reluctance in allowing armies and the military of others states to enter their territories. Although some regional treaties approve of this, it would be difficult to differentiate between the pirate ship and the one that is hijacked. In addition, countries have often been reluctant about having the armies or military of other countries in their waters because of security concerns. Naturally, Lehr (2006) posits that this generates some suspicion irrespective of the fact that the armies could be pursuing a good cause. It is indicated that this limits cooperation because then the international armies would also raise suspicion. Sweet (2005) asserts that this explains why Japan was unsuccessful in executing its powerful plans against piracy in Southeastern countries.

There also have been conflicts between domestic and international obligations. This is due to the fact that treaties made at a regional and international levels in some cases tend to conflict. Goodman (1999) cites that in some cases, a country might be obligated to combat piracy at an international level and then be omitted from participating in the same at a local level by the international law. This has negative effects as coastal countries tend to assume a passive role in fighting against piracy regardless of the fact that they are the most affected by the implications of these.

From the preceding analysis, it is certain that the clash of interests has had adverse effects on the development of international cooperation. Considering the significant benefits that international cooperation provides for states, it is imperative to make efforts to reconcile the conflicting interests. This can be achieved through various ways that require the efforts of individual as well as regional states.

To begin with, Bradford (2004) indicates that the individual states need to collaborate in developing a model international law. Previous efforts in this respect were undermined by the lack of cooperation and willingness to compromise. The global nations need to assume the responsibility of developing vital standards and procedures as well as a model law that would enhance the fight against maritime piracy. They should exercise an acceptable level of flexibility during formulation of such policies in order to enhance their successful creation. Liss (2003) points out that in certain instances, model laws are backed up by relevant treaties and conventions. To enhance sustainability and reduce incidences of conflicts in future, individual states should not be compelled to accept such obligations.

Individual countries should take practical steps to improve their current systems that address piracy control. These should be inclusive of vital aspects such as national criminal law, ship registration and inspection. The state governments need to be pressured to review and bridge their conflicts of public interest in order to enhance international cooperation. In order to achieve optimal results, the principles for various concerns such as vessel registration need to be uniform. This would go a long way in enhancing international efforts with respect to identifying and capturing pirates’ ships.

Leeson (2007) suggests that state governments should work jointly and support each other in the establishment and maintenance of private forces that are solely charged with the responsibility of fighting piracy. This would be important in providing protection and security to private vessels regardless of the fact that they may not be allowed to enter territorial waters. In addition, these can provide protection to the domestic waters. Of great importance would be to provide anti piracy training to the crewmen. This would help them to enhance t heir personal security while in the high sea waters.


It is certain that international cooperation presents the best channel for fighting maritime piracy. As indicated earlier, individual local states have failed dismally in addressing this issue. Regional cooperation of south eastern states has borne positive results as statistics indicate that the rates of piracy in the region have dropped significantly through time. However, it is notable that these have not been completely eliminated the practice and more efforts need to be directed towards this. Conversely, lack of cooperation along the Gulf of Eden and Somali Coast has yielded negative impacts. Coupled with poverty and lack of resources as well as political will, this region continues to experience a rise in maritime piracy.

Although the intervention of the International Maritime Organization and the United States had slight positive effects, it is certain that the region continues to face various challenges in this respect. Notably, the only solution lies in the pursuance of international cooperation. Although this has been compounded by multiple social, economic and political controversies over time, reconciliation of inherent gaps and formulation of standard procedures can yield desirable outcomes. It is in this consideration that this paper concludes by supporting the thesis “international cooperation is the



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