A Global View on Maritime Piracy

By Giles Noakes, Head of Maritime Security, BIMCO

As is often said “Where there is lawlessness ashore there is lawlessness at sea”. For many there is a view that piracy is ever present and never goes away but merely moves around the oceans looking for the easiest prizes with the largest rewards. The 21st Century however has seen simultaneous piracy activity across the globe and particularly in regions where there is instability and economic difficulty. For some pirates that can be no more than the theft of video recorders and mobile phones, others, the theft of commodities such as fuel products but for the largest of rewards – kidnap and ransom of the crew and ship has become a successful business model where it can be achieved.

It is only by collating and portraying accurate statistics such as the OBP Report that governments and other stakeholders in the global supply chain can see the true financial and human cost of piracy and utilise this information to take decisions on necessary action. This can and often does take the form of deterrence through the provision of military and/or law enforcement efforts or capacity building ashore. Unfortunately, as has been seen recently in events off the coast of Somalia, deterrence must be visible and credible, and anyway, will not defeat piracy. 

At the same time the maritime domain is prone to threats from other sectors due to global instability ashore in many parts of the world. It is vitally important however to remember that Piracy affects global trade but other maritime crimes do not; concentrating on too many maritime crimes in general can water down the mandates of all or any military force provided in the regions (and make cooperation more complicated). Equally importantly, it is even more the role and responsibility of Governments to deal with the effects of war and terror on the maritime supply chain and these should not be confused with piracy. 

The piracy statistics however rely on constant and accurate reporting of events to the authorities. The paradigm change of registering and reporting ships by industry, in piracy vulnerable areas, needs to be as well actioned elsewhere around the world, as in the Indian Ocean. By drawing attention to the plight of seafarers accurately and realistically it can only be hoped that the international community capacity building efforts will continue and the rule of local and regional maritime law become respected – as this is the only way to defeat piracy in the longer term. Such capacity building however should not be in the form of protection payments by industry in the territorial waters of coastal states. That is inappropriate and contrary to the requirements of UNCLOS