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Piracy at Sea


Piracyhas resurfaced as a major international concern over the past decade. International
attention has turned to piracy since pirate attacks off the coast of Somaliabegan to increase in 2006.
These pirates attack ships and steal supplies, and some take hostages and demand a ransom for the
safe return of the hostages. Modern day pirates have developed methods of carrying out attacks
over an area too large to patrol.

The international communityi

recognizes piracy as a security
threat, but has yet to find a
solution. The United Nations
states that acts of piracy
threaten maritime security by
endangering, in particular, the
welfare of seafarers and the
security of navigation and
commerce. Pirate attacks
can have widespread
ramifications, including
preventing humanitarian
assistance and increasing the costs of future shipments to the affected areas.ii The international
community is increasing naval presence and supporting trials of piracy allegations in several
nations. There is also a push for progress towards stability in Somalia, where violence and
instability throughout the past two decades have created a pirate-friendly environment. Piracy has
become an issue of global concern, and thus prevention efforts come from various international
players, such as the United Nations, governments, and even private security companies. These
efforts are costly, and recent studies show that Somali pirates cost the international community
over $5 billion per year.iii


Pirates have been on the international scene for centuries. Pirates threatened trade routes in
Ancient Greece 2000 years ago. There were also the Barbary pirates who attacked ships off the
Barbary Coast (todays Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia). Similar to modern day Somali
pirates, the Barbary pirates would take hostages, usually keeping them alive in return for ransom.
Initially, countries would pay off the pirates. In the United States, for example, leaders wrote
treaties in agreement to pay the pirates in return for a cease in attacks against American ships.
However, the U.S. government was unhappy paying off people they considered to be criminals,
which lead to the start the Barbary Wars. Despite the risk of capture and death, pirates throughout
history have found acts of piracy to be profitable and worth the possible dangers.

Colonial America
The Golden Age of Piracy is described as the 17th and 18th
centuries in Colonial Americaiv. Colonists had a reputation of
being cooperative with pirates who were in need of ports for
their stolen ships. British officials ordered for serious
measures to be taken against piracy, and so local government
officials began to enforce harsh punishment. Public hangings
were common, and often the bodies were left on display as a
warning for other pirates. However, poor local colonists
continued to see pirates as local folk heroes. This Golden
Age ended by 1730,v although colonial officials dispatched
privateersto harass British shipping during the American

RECENT HISTORY The Infamous Pirate known as Blackbeard

In the past five years, pirates from Somaliaa country whose Wikimedia
government collapsed in 1991have attacked all kinds of
seafarers. These several hundred attacks have included small family sailboats, supertankers,
fishing vessels, and others. Just a few years ago, Somali pirates held dozens of captured ships at a
time, and almost 1,000 crew members. Today, those numbers are down to about a dozen ships and
several hundred crew members.vii Piracy has declined in other areas, such as the Strait of Malacca,
but is feared to grow in areas of failing or failed states . 1

Privateers: An armed private ship licensed or allowed by a government to attack enemy shipping
Failed State: A country whose government has lost control of its territory, cannot provide public services, and cannot make
decisions for its people
Case Study: Blackbeard

Edward Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard, was a successful pirate in the Caribbean in
the 18th century. Described as a huge man with fiery eyes and a booming voice, hewent into
battle with lighted, slow-burning cannon fuses tucked into his hair, and six pistols slung across his
chest.xlii In 1718, Blackbeard blockaded Charleston, South Carolina, and took sterling and
hostages in demand for medicines. Shortly after the blockade, he convinced another pirate, Stede
Bonnet, to sail to Bath, in the United Kingdom, to take the pardon recently extended to him by the
King of England. While Bonnet was ashore in North Carolina, Blackbeard took everything of value
from his own ship and Bonnets ship. Blackbeard then marooned Bonnets captain and crew and
sailed to Bath himself to accept the pardon.xliii After this incident, Virginias governor was unhappy to
hear that Blackbeard was building a fort nearby. So, he sent an expedition to hunt him down.
Lieutenant Robert Maynard killed Blackbeard in a battle aboard Maynards ship in November


Pirates typically approach a vessel and swarm it on their skiffs. The armed pirates then gain
control of the vessel and force it back to their home base. In some cases, the pirates receive help
from a mother shipa large vessel that serves as a floating base. This is usually a hijacked ship,
stocked with food, fuel, and other supplies. This type of base allows the pirates to attack ships
much farther offshore, creating a strike zone of over two million square miles of water.viii The
pirates demand a ransom and, in some cases, take hostages. They put the ransom money back into
piracy by using a significant amount of it to buy weapons, boats, and other supplies. The pirates
who did the hijacking also must receive their cut of the ransom money. In recent years, pirates
have become more violent in regard to hostages and ransom.

Hostages and Ransom

Modern day pirates take hostages to use as bargaining chips for ransom. Over the past five years,
hostages have typically been kept safe, as the pirates need the ransom money to continue their
piracy. However, in the past year there have been incidents of growing aggression towards
hostages. Because piracy has developed from pirates being former fishermen to men who are simply
looking for a big payout, many modern pirates have significantly less experience on the water than
previous pirates. Thus, these new pirates are more likely to get lost. Often, they carry out an

Skiff: Any of various small boats; especially: a flat-bottomed rowboat

attack just because they desperately need the supplies on the ship that they are attacking.ix Once
the pirates take hostages, they demand a ransom from the hostages, their family, or even the
government of the hostages native country. This process can take a short amount of time or it can
take months; one couple was held for over a year before being released (see case study on the
Chandlers). There have also been incidents of hostage death, which is a huge concern as piracy
violence increases. Ransom money is frequently dropped from a small plane, shrink wrapped and
attached to a brick that is parachuted from the sky.x Holding hostages can get expensive for the
pirates because hostages need to be fed and guarded, and often there are paid translators. The
pirates funding tends to come from credit, as they borrow resources from the local community, who
later get a cut (called a sami in Somali) when the ransom comes through.xi

In 1991, Somalias governmentxii
collapsed, leading to corruption and
violence throughout the country.
Foreign ships invaded Somali waters,
leading to overfishing and pollution.
Local fishermen were enraged, and
began attacking those foreign ships,
demanding a tax be paid to them since
they were losing business. However,
piracy has since developed into a more
widespread phenomenon off the Horn
of Africa. The Transitional Federal
Government in Somalia has little to no
influence in preventing or punishing
piracy. According to the maritime
bureau, 111 ships were attacked in
that region in 2008, increasing to over
200 in 2009.xiii In 2010, there were
1,181 hostages taken by pirates
worldwide1,016 of which were taken by Somali pirates.xiv The International Maritime
Bureaureported that the number of Somali pirate attacks increased from 2010 to 2011, but the
number of successful attacks actually decreased.xv By mid-July 2012, there had been almost 70
attacks by Somali pirates, and over 200 hostages.xvi There have also been reports of increased
violence by Somali pirates.

International Maritime Bureau: A division of the International Chamber of Commerce that specializes in fighting maritime
crime in order to protect the integrity of international trade
Connection to Terrorism
Another major security threat that stems from piracy is its possible connection to militant or
terrorist organizations. Although al-Shabab (an Islamic terrorist organization based in Somalia)
has stated that it is against piracy, there are suspicions that pirates (in al-Shabab controlled areas)
give a cut of the ransom to the organization.xvii Al-Shabab announced its affiliation with al-Qaeda in
2007.xviii In addition, a pirate base called Xaradheere was seized by radical Islamist insurgents in
2010. This caused concern in the international community about the possibility of rebels with al-
Qaeda connections obtaining access to tens of millions of dollars.xix However, al-Shabab retreated
from several areas of Somalia, including the capital city Mogadishu, in August 2011. While this was
a positive sign for Somalia, the transitional government was too unstable and corrupt to fully take
advantage of this opportunity for real progress in most of those areas.

Signs of Progress
The general consensus is that stability and progress in Somalia will bring an end to piracy. Despite
the lack of control by the transitional government, there are still signs of slow progress. The New
York Times describes the situation in Mogadishu, the capital, as a huge opportunity for Somalias
future: Many Somalis who had moved abroad are now coming back to reconstruct their homes in
the city, which is helping the economy grow.xx The international community is optimistic that this
is a sign of progress towards a more peaceful, stable nation that in turn will be able to stamp out

Just across the Gulf of Adenxxi from Somalia, the country of
Yemen is also playing a role in the Somali piracy issue. Despite
holding trials for various Somali pirates, Yemeni people have
been found to be generally sympathetic to the pirates. Many
Yemeni recognize that many pirates are just former fishermen,
enraged by foreign ships overfishing and polluting their waters.
Yemeni leaders and people have defended the pirates, saying if
there was education and stability, these men would not turn to
piracy. The same Yemeni leaders also suggest that the
international attention to the issue of piracy is just a pretext
for big powers like the U.S. to gain control of the Gulf of Aden,
a waterway through which millions of barrels of oil pass every
day.xxii These officials believe that if Western powers want to Somalia and Yemen
bring an end to piracy, they should help bring lasting peace to
Somalia. Piracy, they believe, only exists and succeeds because of the violence and corruption in
Somalia. However, Yemeni leaders also have to worry about their own country facing the same fate
as Somalia, as Yemen itself has become a failed state.xxiii
Case Study: The Chandlers
After Rachel and Paul Chandler retired, they set out to fulfill their dream of exploring the
world on their yacht, the Lynn Rival. They knew of the dangers of piracy, but they also
knew that the odds of a pirate attack on their planned route were slim. Unfortunately,
the wind brought them off course, and into view of Somali pirates. Gunshots rang out and
pirates climbed aboard, sailing the Chandlers to their mother vessel and stealing the
couples food, supplies, and belongings. A British navy ship appeared, but a pirate put a
gun in Pauls face and told him to speak to the ship over the radio, insisting they leave.
Soon, the Chandlers found themselves off the coast of Somalia, with a community of
hijacked ships and hostages. The Chandlers were brought ashore and kept hostage,
costing the pirates about $20,000 per month (as estimated by Paul). The pirate believed
the couple was rich and that they could make millions in ransom money. However, the
Chandlers would only have been able to scrape together $500,000 from their retirement
funds, property, and savings. Then, the pirates hoped that the British government would
pay millions, but the government has a policy against paying ransom.

Back in England, the British Somali community reacted to the kidnapping, embarrassed
by this representation of their community. They came out with many forms of protest (i.e.
talk shows) against the pirates who were holding the Chandlers hostage. This caused the
pirates local community back in Somalia to become unhappy with the pirates. After 388
days in captivity, the Chandlers were finally released. The details of the ransom remain
unclear, but it is clear that the pirates were paid several hundred thousand dollars, and it
is possible that they accepted two ransoms. xlv

Piracy in the Strait of Malacca has existed for centuries in the form of lanun. The lanun were
brought somewhat under the control of colonizers in the late 19th century, but they never fully
disappeared. In modern times, there are three general groups who follow their traditions: gangs of
robbers who board vessels, multinational syndicates who capture ships, and guerilla kidnapping
groups who hold hostages for ransom.xxiv The Strait is a 550-mile channel that serves as a direct
route between China and India. Between 2002 and 2007, the IMB reported 258 attacks recorded in
the Strait, with 200 hostages and eight killings. IMB indicates that about half of all pirate attacks

Lanun: There is no English definition of lanun, however, pirate is considered the closest translation possible.

Multinational Syndicates: A loose association of racketeers (one who obtains money by an illegal enterprise usually
involving intimidation), involving more than two nations, in control of organized crime
are not reported, and therefore it is unclear how many pirates are active in the Strait. A typical
pirate attack in the Strait is, the
majority of the time, an inside job; an
unhappy crewman helps the pirates with
the logistics and then benefits from the
attack. The pirates often refer to piracy
as shopping, and many blame
unemployment and lack of legal sea
licenses for resorting to piracy.xxv
However, in recent years the issue of
piracy in the Straitxxvi has been
declining. In 2008, there were only two
attempted pirate attacks in that region.
This decline is thanks to cooperation
between Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand in order to improve the areas security.xxvii


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established the legal framework
for dealing with piracy at sea, stating that all nations must cooperate in stopping piracy. This push
for cooperation is evident in various General Assembly resolutions on the law of the sea.xxviii In
February 2012, the Security Council called for a 50% increase in the peacekeeping forces of the
African Union in order to deal with Somalias security issues. The United Nations Office on Drugs
and Crime (UNODC) has implemented various initiatives to fight piracy in Somalia, the goals being
to increase awareness of illicit money flows, provide support for countries that agree to prosecute
pirates, provide training for police, prison and judicial forces, refurbish prisons so that they meet
international standards, and reach out to youth through advocacy programmes.xxix An assessment
mission, deployed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in November 2011, recommended in February
2012 that the countries affected by piracy establish a regional summit in 2012 in order to develop a
plan. Unfortunately, the lack of harmonized legal framework is a major limitation for the region.
Another major issue is that there is no standard, accepted definition of piracy in the countries of
the region which creates difficulties in the judicial

The European Union has vowed to respond to Somali piracy, and recently followed through on that
promise. In May 2012, the EU destroyed several skiffs ashore a well known pirate base by
attacking from a combat helicopter. This action was approved by Somali officials, and the EU
officials say there will most likely be similar strikes. Just two months prior to the raid, the EUs
antipiracy mandate stretched to allow its forces in the Indian Ocean to also attack pirates on land,
not just at sea.xxxi In 2007, France proposed to the UN Security Council that the Defense Ministry
carry out an operation to deliver aid to Somalia. What resulted was Operation Alcyon. Nine
shipschartered by the World Food Program (WFP) and escorted by French naval shipsdelivered
food aid to Somalia. This operation later continued under the control of other nations, such as
Denmark and the Netherlands.xxxii In May 2012, six Somalis were put on trial in Paris for alleged
piracy. At the time of the trial, about 20 Somalis were being held in France on allegations of
piracy.xxxiii There have also been trials held in other EU nations, such as Germany and the

United States of America

Anti-piracy laws in the United States have existed since the country was founded.xxxv In 2011, trials
were held in Virginia of the pirates who attacked U.S. ships. Typically, the sentence in a piracy
trial is severe. For example, the pirates who attacked the USS Nicolas received life plus 80 years in
jail.xxxvi American prosecutors have stated that they will become involved if there is American
interest, for example U.S. citizens taken as hostages. Out of around 1000 pirates in custody all over
the world, about 30 are being held in the United States.xxxvii United States prosecutors are not only
interested in the men who carry out the pirate attack but also others involved in the pirate
network, i.e. ransom negotiators.xxxviii One common issue in piracy trials in the U.S. is determining
the age of accused pirates, and what to do about minors .xxxix Another issue is that possible Somali
witnesses are afraid of the U.S. government and therefore refuse to come to the country to testify.
This leads to a concern about fair trial. xl


In 2009, the UNODC began the counter-piracy programme (CPP) in order to help Kenya with the
increased number of trials of alleged Somali pirates. The CPP has since extended to include other
countries in that region. The UNODC continues to assist Kenya, as well as Seychelles, Mauritius,
Tanzania, and Maldives in judicial action against piracy. The executive director of the UNODC,
Yury Fedetov, has stated that the long-term solution is restoring order in Somalia; however, the
current Somali judicial and prison systems cannot handle the piracy problem. Thus, other African
nations (i.e. Kenya) have stepped up to hold trials for alleged pirates.xli In addition, neighboring
countries Kenya and Ethiopia responded very aggressively to the return of al-Shabab members in
some areas of Somalia. The two nations sent troops to fight al-Shabab, whom they consider to be a
regional threat.xlii

In 2009, the Japanese government dispatched ships to join forces with other nations in the fight
against Somali pirates. An obstacle in reaching this decision was that Japans constitution (post-
World War II) limits its military action to defensive operations. However, the government decided
that fighting piracy is classified as fighting crime on the high seas and not just military action.
Also involved in these forces are China and South Korea. This intervention from China was
unprecedented, as China typically does not get involved in other countries affairs. However, these
nations recognize that piracy has had severe effects on international trade and security. Therefore,
the presence of ships from Asia will help with humanitarian aid as well as increased security.xliii
The Philippines government is taking a different approach to the piracy issue. Unable to provide
naval security protection, the government has turned to anti-piracy training. This mandatory
preparation includes a simulation exercise that trains seafarers to prevent pirates from boarding
the ship.xliv


How can the international community work with Somalia to bring stability and
security to the nation?
What are the implications for globalization and the international economy? How
will an increase in violence affect this?
Why do countries like Great Britain refuse to pay ransom?
What is the definition of piracy?

Citations and Photo Credits

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
Sources vary, indicating 1725 or 1730 as the end.
Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:
xxxiv and, respectively
As of July 2012