Sea Transportation: Taking The Measure of Modern Piracy

Archives

July 18, 2007: Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and policed it. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes. Note that what constitutes an act of piracy is not clearly defined. It essentially comes down to non-state sanctioned use of force at sea or from the sea. This could include intercepting a speedboat to rob the passengers, but that's usually just thought of as armed robbery. And something like the seizure of the Achille Lauro is considered terrorism, rather than piracy. In the past, some marginal states have sanctioned piratical operations, like the Barbary states, but that is rare any more.

The trend, however, is definitely up.

o 1991: About 120 known cases of real or attempted piracy

o 1994: over 200 cases

o 2000: 471 cases

o 2005: 359 cases

o 2006: 334 cases

Pirates usually function of the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren't many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and "flailed" states (a flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to keep things together but is faced with serious problems and areas out of its control, unlike a failed state such as Somalia, where there isn't a government at all.)

The solution to piracy is essentially on land; go into uncontrolled areas and institute governance. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago.. Trying to tackle piracy on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy, but can't eliminate it. In the modern world the "land" solution often can't be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.

Piracy in the vital (most of the worlds oil exports pass through here) Straits of Malacca was largely an Indonesian phenomenon. It bothered the Singaporeans a lot, the Malaysians a little, and the Indonesians not much. But as Indonesia began stabilizing itself over the past few years (the Aceh Peace settlement, the institution of a more democratic government, defeating Islamic terrorism), the rate of piracy declined. This decline was facilitated by the combined police effort of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia itself, which didn't come about until a lot of issues among the three states were resolved. Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia were all that upset about smuggling, which bothered Singapore. Singapore and Indonesia still have some problems, as Singapore more or less encourages sand stealing in enormous volumes from Indonesia.

In contrast to the Straits of Malacca situation, the U.S. approach to piracy has been largely a police mission, without trying to deal with the land-side. Again, that would mean occupying Somalia. But there are some regional constraints on piracy. There seems to be little or no piracy in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb. Apparently this was because the smugglers decided the pirates interfered with their business (by bringing in coalition naval forces), and so shut down any pirate operations themselves. The Somali pirates may be in for another surprise, as there's talk by the UN humanitarian assistance folks (who have been losing relief ships to pirates) of seeking international agreement on permitting anti-piracy patrols to "violate" Somali territorial waters!

Although most merchant ships are not armed, it turns out that firefighting equipment can be very effective against pirates trying to board. Some types of merchant ships (like tankers and chemical carriers) have extraordinarily sophisticated and powerful equipment that can literally wash pirates overboard. And a modest industry has developed that attempts to "pirate proof" ships.

 


Article Archive

Sea Transportation: Current 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 1999 


X

ad
0
20

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close