A Twenty First Century Problem On the Rise

By Paul Johnstone

In the Twenty-First Century context, when someone mentions piracy almost immediately the idea of the theft of intellectual property, trademark and copyright violations come to mind. Unfortunately, the traditional use of the word in the context of maritime high jacking, kidnapping, murder and rape at sea has remerged alive and well within both Africa and Asia.


The United Nations Law of the Sea defines piracy as 'violence on the high seas' and 'an incident beyond any states 12 nautical mile territorial waters'. When piracy occurs in territorial waters it is referred to as sea robbery. The romantic notion of a pirate or buccaneer such as the likable rouge played by Hollywood actor Errol Flynn is in reality nowhere near the real world truth. Modem-day maritime pirates can be divided into three kinds: 0 'Smaller' pirates who simply rob the crew and then depart. This usually occurs when the victim vessel is at anchor or at port. 0 Pirates who rob the crew and steal the cargo on board. 0 The third type of pirates take over the vessel, re- flag it, and then run a "phantom ship" which in turn, steals the cargo of anyone foolish enough to consign such goods to it. Smaller pirates are usually only interested in the safe of the ship and the possessions of the crew (the safe of a ship sometimes contains a considerable amount of money to pay port and payroll fees). The crews are most often left alone and the ships are usually set adrift. Occasionally the ships are taken as well and the crew is set adrift in a dolly. The ship is then re-painted, re-named and re-registered, and sold. When the pirates are finished looting a ship they can usually escape fairly easily because they usually leave the crew imprisoned or they force them off the ship before they leave. Pirates can also choose which nation's coastal waters they will escape to. Some of the people in the coastal villages and local towns of Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore are even sympathetic towards the arrival of pirates. In the Far East, where many of these piracy attacks occur, pirates have several harbors to hide in and operate from where the locals will protect them. The second and third types of pirates tend to be much more organized, 'professional' pirates. They are often linked to other criminal organization, on land which assist them to carry out the sale of the stolen goods and cargo, and assist in the forging of cargo documentation. Here is an example of the activities these pirates undertake:
1. The pirates look for a commodity seller or shipping agent with a letter of credit that has almost expired (this happens regularly since the demand for shipping space exceeds that which is available).
2. The pirates then offer the services of 'their' ship. (This is the ship that is stolen, re-painted, re-named, and re- registered).
3. A temporary registration certificate is then acquired through a registration office at a consulate. To get such a certificate a bribe combined with verbal information or some false and/or forged documents is necessary. This certificate provides the ship with an official (new) identity.
4. The ship is loaded and the shipper receives his bill of loading.
5. The pirates then sail to a different port than the one named as the destination on the bill of loading. There they unload the cargo to a partner in crime or an unsuspecting buyer and change the temporary registration certificate once again.
The third type of pirates described involves sophisticated organisations of pirates who are able to steal at least $200 million a year worth of cargo.
Many of the ships are then flagged in either third world or economically underdeveloped countries (like Honduras and Panama), and usually take cargo that is easily disposed of but not easily traceable, such as timber, metals, and minerals.
The significance of the third type lies in the sophistication of these maritime thieves. As indicated by the measures these pirates take, as outlined above, they are professional thieves. All three types of piracy are of concern. But, where the cargo and/or ship is the target, is of greatest concern since lives are at stake; The crew of the hijacked ship could be marooned or even thrown overboard by the sea raiders.


Failed States and abject poverty in countries like those in Africa has seen the re-emergence of maritime piracy within this region and subsequent threats to both shipping and people. The height of the Asian Economic Collapse saw the rise of piracy in Asia, especially within the Malacca Straits. It is estimated that around 95% of the world's commerce is currently carried by ship with approximately 600 ships a day moving through the Malacca Straits and South China Sea. Many of these ships are carrying cargos such as oil and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to the energy hungry and developing nations of Asia. A principal challenge for any Nation is exercising control of their Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) and their Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC). Piracy is introducing new constraints, expenses and exposing many of the sovereignty limitations many nations suffer from in effectively responding to this form of maritime challenge. Open source intelligence reports have suggested that in Asia poorly paid naval elements of cash strapped nations have at times resorted to piracy and kidnapping to supplement their incomes. Logically they have the tools at their disposal to conduct such operations and with no one to watch the watchers they have little chance of being apprehended and or convicted. The rise of economic refuges and people trafficking has provided a steady source of prey and income for those involved in piracy. In Africa, it is often the dominant warlord who has control of naval assets or who has effectively modified fast boats that have become seaborne predators. Unconfirmed reports have indicated that members of the Indonesian Free Aceh Movement or GAM have possibly used piracy as a means to fund their ongoing war against the Jakarta government. The fight against piracy is currently monitored and largely co-ordinated from the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (1MB) in London, Kuala Lumpa and The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO). The 1MB. offers a rapid response investigation and a satellite tracking service as well as promoting and trailing a variety of systems to work as deterrents and preventative measures relating to acts of piracy. The IMO principally attempts to coordinate international approaches to counter piracy, by educational seminars and issuing regular reports to notify shipping and shipping companies of regional piracy hotspots. Cooperation between Governments and officials are also fostered through the efforts of IMO instilling a better understanding of regional and international efforts and responses to the act of piracy. Some of the physical deterrents to piracy that have been developed for use on ships include a 9,000 volt anti-boarding fence around the perimeter of the ship's deck. This' Secure- Ship Fence' is both collapsible and storable and zones may be rendered inactive to allow crew to conduct work on both the deck and the cargo whilst still having the other zones live and providing protection. With the fence is a sophisticated control module that detects any attempts of entry and activates lights and alarms to warn the crew. An advantage of the ships electric fence is that is protects the ship and crew while negating the need to arm them. The 9,000 volt charge is not lethal, not hindered by salt water and will operate in all types of weather. Unfortunately, the electric barrier cannot be used on oil or LNG tankers or carriers of flammable materials. The satellite-tracking system, or SHIPLOC, is currently being enforced through the International Ships and Port Facility Code (ISPS). SHIPLOC is a small satellite tracking system hidden upon a vessel allowing owners to monitor the movement of their ship.
The Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS) has required all ships to display their International Maritime Organisation (IMO) number visibly on their hulls. One simple defence mechanism and technique that has proven to be most successful is to have crew posted on key points of the ship when entering dangerous waters equipped with radios and charged fire hoses. Any attempt to board the ship sees the unwelcome boarder hit with the full force of the fire hose, risking a fall and possible drowning or an encounter with the ships massive propellers. This is particularly safe defensive option for oil and LNG tankers removing the risk of firearms, spark and flame. Nations such as Singapore are beginning to classify piracy along the same lines as terrorism. Many groups involved in piracy also have links with religious extremist groups either through family bonds or through economic dependancy. As mentioned earlier it is thought the Indonesian Free Aceh Movement or GAM have possibly used piracy as a means to fund their ongoing war against the Jakarta government. Skills learned on the 'piracy job' can also translate to extremist sponsored or paid acts of terrorism (much like mercenaries). Links between crime gangs and terrorists are starting to emerge with the term 'narco-terrorism' being used to describe ongoing AI-Qeada efforts to fund operations through drug manufacture. Modem pirates are increasingly using sophisticated equipment, with high levels of coordination, high levels of violence and modem weapons systems. This worrying trend has seen the forum of ASEAN nations take notice given the growing similarity with modem terrorism. One concern has been the worldwide links between religious militants and the discovery of a plot to attack the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS ARK ROYAL (CYS) as it transited the Straits of Gibmltar to support operations in Iraq in 2003. Other threats have also been allegedly discovered against the recently launched QUEEN MARY 2 and other luxury cruise liners. Just like the tanker wars of the 1980's in the Persian' Gulf a new and expensive naval or armed commitment of escorting sea trade may need to occur, and with this a cost that will have to be passed onto the consumer. Currently, two thirds of the world's trade passes through ~South East Asia placing enormous pressure on the nations that border these already congested sea lanes to guarantee both the rights of protection and of passage. ASEAN has attempted to organise formal cooperation in policing areas such as the Malacca Strait only to have nations such as Malaysia reject the assistance of foreign forces to patrol its waters. This stance by Malaysia and others has contributed to the already significant gaps within regional maritime coverage and deterrent efforts. In the year 2000, at the peak of international piracy the financial loss due to maritime piracy was estimated to be US$16 billion. Africa is another significant point of piracy especially around the continent's East Coast, the Horn and Western stretch of waters between Nigeria and Guinea. Piracy within African waters stems from unchecked activities from warlords and militias who are active in hostage taking, ransoming and theft. Many of the weapons in the hands of militants are reported to have come via Somalia which, as discovered during United Nations Operation Restore Hope, is a violent fragmented nation awash in an extensive range of weapons and a population who know how to use them. The US has responded to threats in this region and its own interest through the African Coastal Security Program. Currently, 15% of US oil is coming from this region and is expected to grow to around 25% as more oil platforms come on-line. Many of the African coastal nations cannot effectively enforce or police their EEZ. Foreign and unauthorised incursions 9ccur regularly alongside illegal fishing to such a degree that fish stocks are almost depleted. An inability to respond to these threats at the most basic level induces even greater concerns when it comes to protecting shipping or oil platforms. Apart from the loss of life, shipping and commerce there is the threat of severe environmental hazards resulting from the acts of piracy. In 1999, the fully laden crude carrier MT CHAUMONT was left uncrewed for 70 minutes sailing at full speed towards the southern end of the Malacca Strait after being attacked by pirates. The environmental consequences from running aground or colliding with other shipping would have produced an oil spill of an unprecedented size in the region. For a region that depends heavily upon the sea for fish products and desalination of water for drinking a spill of this magnitude would have had severe economic losses as well as environmental. Taiwan and Japan are two nations that are totally dependant upon the shipping of foreign oil while China imports a significant proportion of its oil to meet its energy production needs. An interruption or delay to oil deliveries would have disastrous impacts upon the economies of these nations and threaten their national security. A maritime response would most likely be enacted by Japan and China to threats such as this but Taiwan may be tied up with domestic security considerations and international concerns about its involvement offshore. Japan, on the other hand, has provided significant contributions to the war on terror in the form of support ships and refuellers to allied navies. Regular Japanese patrols and a desire for cooperation within the South East Asian region will incur constitutional and regional concerns stemming back to Japan's Imperial past. Alternatively China's involvement would most likely be viewed as an attempt to expand its regional ambitions and influence, altering a balance that nations such as the US and Australia may feel they would need to counteract.
Earlier this year the C-IN-C USPACOM (Commander in Chief US Pacific Command) Admiral Fargo testified to the US House of Representatives that the Pentagon was formulating a Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI) to combat the threats of piracy, maritime terrorism, sea trafficking of people and drugs. Principal components of the initiative would be greater intelligence sharing with Asian members of the Initiative and staging of US Marines and Special Forces on armed high-speed interdiction vessels within the region. The island State of Singapore has demonstrated the most enthusiasm for the proposal by negotiating with the US over the terms of RMSI. Indonesia and Malaysia have both expressed concerns relating to their own ability to maintain adequate security and meet the demands that would be placed upon their naval and Coast Guard services. A big part of the rationale behind the stance taken by Indonesia and Malaysia is that they view security as a domestic issue that they and other members of the region will sort out rather than introduce the issue of foreign intervention. Apart from the issues of national pride and sovereignty, it is believed an active participation by US or other foreign forces may be counterproductive to a degree that may provoke terrorist incidents and foster instability within these nations that have populations with strong anti-western, anti-American and radical Islamic beliefs.


Piracy is alive and well globally and often has strong and effective links with modem maritime terrorism and the global War on Terror. For nations that rely heavily upon the Sea Lanes of Communication for much of their economic lifeblood the threats of kidnapping, murder, disruption to trade and environmental catastrophe is of enormous concern. The cost to adequately policing and monitoring the high volumes of maritime trade is generally well beyond the capabilities, resources, finances and political will of shipping companies and nations. It is unlikely that a coordinated effort would induce an overall halt in pirate activity but would surely reduce many of the threats in their current form. Piracy is estimated to have been occurring for over 3000 years and has long been a means of instilling fear, interrupting trade and commerce and its associated profits. In our region the Asian Economic Crisis was the trigger by which this scourged remerged in its largest and most violent form since the conclusion of the Vietnam Conflict and the era of the boat people. The failed states and lawlessness of Africa have also been active contributors to the rise of piracy along side the international reduction in naval surface fleets and their at sea presence. This is little doubt that these issues have aided and inspired confidence within the modem perpetrators of this ancient terror of the seas.


Pirates preying on shipping were more violent than ever in 2004 and murdered a total of 30 crew members, compared with 21 in 2003, the ICC International Maritime Bureau reported in its annual piracy report for 2004. The number of attacks reported worldwide through the 1MB Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur was 325, down from the 445 recorded in 2003. Indonesian waters continue to be the scene of the highest number of attacks, with 93 incidents reported in 2004. While this is down from 121 in 2003, it still accounts for more than one quarter of piratical attacks reported worldwide. The report said hijackings of tugs and barges and the kidnapping of crew members were on the rise, especially in Indonesian waters, in the Northern Malacca Straits, and off North Sumatra. While in the past these attacks had been thought to be the work of Aceh rebels, there were now increasing signs that crime syndicates are also using fishing boats for such attacks. Attacks in Nigerian waters were down from 39 in 2003 to 28. However the report said that offshore Nigeria still had the third highest number of incidents and was regarded as the most dangerous area in Africa for piracy and armed robbery at sea. The 1MB is part of ICC Commercial Crime Services, the division of the International Chamber of Commerce dedicated to fighting all types of commercial crime.










































































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