Worldwide: Maritime Piracy

Last Updated: 29 July 2019
Article by Zacharias Kapsis

In an interlinked world with global commercial sea routes the problem of maritime piracy has long been the subject of international criticism and concern. South East Asia and East Africa are two specific areas where maritime piracy over the last decade has grown up to such an extent that these areas are considered amongst the most dangerous places in the world. More specifically, East Africa in 2009 was one of the "most affected areas by piracy", with 222 incidents. In 2010, pirate attacks numbered 219 in the Horn of Africa according to International Maritime Bureau and 119 in South East Asia. The economic instability, coupled with the absence of adequate security seem to be the two main reasons behind the increasing trend in piracy incidents. Thus, solutions should be focused on both funding programmes for the prosperity of the local populations, along with an international security cooperation that will assist local authorities with protecting the coastal interests in both local and international level.

i. Economic Instability

One of the main causes of maritime piracy shared by the South East Asian and East African coasts is the long lasting economic crisis. As regards South East Asia, the 1998 financial crisis and the 2008 global recession, led to an increase of piracy. The poverty and unemployment are considered as the main drivers to "a life of maritime crime" for many local fishermen. For example, Indonesia witnessed a dramatic increase in piracy, mainly due to unemployment. Similar to South East Asia, in East Africa, it is identified that the same factors of an unstable economic environment and the decrease of the fishermen's income are the key motives for many Somalians to venture into a life of maritime piracy. As a result, the International Maritime Organisation reports 1,676 pirate incidents between 2000 and 2003 in South East Asia and in Somalia, an increase of 470.37% was observed between 2003 and 2009, accounting for the majority of pirate incidents off the coast of East Africa, as per the International Maritime Bureau.

ii. Funding Programmes

Thus, one possible solution to help tackle the problem of maritime piracy in these areas could be funding programmes. If these programmes strengthen the countries' economies and the elimination of poverty through the creation of sustainable work opportunities for the local coastal populations, one problem would be resolved. It is well known that historically nothing has worked better than economic growth in enabling societies to improve the life chances of their members, including those at the very bottom. Hence, if funding programmes focus on the economic growth of the local communities and the individuals who, were recognised suffer from poverty, they would consequently forge an appealing and thriving economic environment that would encourage new investment and development. Also, a prosperous economic environment will offer opportunities and potential vocational training for young people like the fishermen who were identified as a vulnerable social group which increasingly possess no alternative. A successful example of such implemented programme is the European Union Programme to Promote Regional Maritime Security (MASE). The aforementioned programme achieved to combat the maritime piracy in Eastern and Southern Africa, focusing inter alia, to "boost" their "economy and trade". According to the European Commission (2013), due to its efforts, help and support, the piracy in East and South Africa decreased by 62.87% in only one year. Therefore, considering the effectiveness of this implementation in East and South Africa, the solution of funding programmes appears to be also feasible in South East Asia, where the problems of poverty and unemployment facing the local populations are the same.

iii. Absence of adequate security

Another main cause of maritime piracy in these areas is the absence of adequate security. This phenomenon has left many miles of sea routes without any form of state control or protection for the passing vessels. This reason is linked to the local governments since the underfunding of naval and army services either due to governmental strategic decision making or due to the unfavourable economic environment has led to very limited naval patrolling equipment. Regarding South East Asia, Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are the three states with the major problem of inefficient security. A decline of 65% on the army services was observed in Indonesia the last decade, weakening the patrolling in the area, turning at the same time the interest of the military force to "armed robbery and piracy", in order to strengthen the military equipment. As regards East Africa, a similar situation of highly depleted patrolling capacity in Somalia, has left countries such as Kenya and Tanzania unable to control and secure their coastlines broadening the piracy on their territories. As a direct consequence, pirates have found themselves in an increasingly uneven arena which allows them to act uninterrupted and without any fear of being confronted or prosecuted by the local navy or authorities.

iv. International and regional security cooperation

Therefore, on the aspect of security, a potential solution to addressing this could be the international and regional cooperation among these countries. This cooperation could also be widened to include those non-regional countries which have high economic and commercial interests on the affected sea paths, since safer commercial routes would allow for increased sea trade relations. Furthermore, a solid cooperation with both regional and international ties, would allow for a significantly intensified security in these unguarded coasts which were detected as the areas with the greatest problem.

This solution seems to be feasible and successful in South East Asia. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), formed in 2006, managed to have a positive impact by reducing dramatically the piracy in South East Asia. According to the 2016 reports by ReCAAP, maritime piracy decreased by 64% in the first semester of 2016. Compared with the first six months of 2016, the number of piracy attacks in 2015, was 73 more. More specifically, due to this cooperation, a substantial drop in maritime incidents was observed in the Strait of Malacca and Singapore, noting only one maritime attack in 2016, by comparison with 55 attacks which took place in the first half of 2015. The two main causal factors of this success are the geographical situation of the South East Asia and the regional naval sources. First, the Strait of Malacca, one of the busiest waterways in the world, is a slender canal among Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and as a consequence there was no difficulty to be patrolled efficiently. Second, the naval sources of Singapore and Malaysia played an essential role and contributed to this success, by patrolling effectively the area.

On the contrary, as far as East Africa, this cooperation seems to be impracticable, although the problem of the coastal security is the same with South East Asia. A similar attempt which occurred in 2009 by eight African states, created the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) as a regional cooperation agreement. However, it was not as resonant and effective as the ReCAAP in South East Asia, for two main reasons. The first reason is the geographical range of the area. East Africa, due to its large extent over Indian Ocean, coupled with the extensive length of the coasts of Somalia, which appear to have a near complete absence of any form of patrolling, maintained the unprotected status of the local sea ways. The second reason is the high expense of patrolling. This reason is inextricably bonded with the size of East Africa, which has been identified as the first cause of the DcoC's failure. The high cost of patrolling was a discouraging factor. For example, one warship's operation to the Gulf of Aden, in the Horn of Africa for a half year, might cost the salaries of 100,000 police officers during the same time. For these reasons, the East Africa's regional cooperation failed to solve the problem of patrolling and by extension to counter the maritime piracy on East African coast. Nevertheless, elements such as the geographical range of the area and the financial possibility should probably be taken into consideration in order to succeed an analogous potential cooperation scheme in East Africa.

v. Conclusion

In conclusion, maritime piracy is an issue with both regional and international aspects which needs an equally regional and international approach in order to be tackled effectively. Although measures need to be taken at the level of local political agendas by the governments of South East Asia and East Africa; it is necessary that the international community also plays its role by offering the appropriate funds and support to those countries. This will not come without benefits for the international community as well. Moreover, these funding programmes need to be tailored to both the local community structure and the wider international context of the affected coastal regions in order to create a viable and sustainable solution for the local populations that are being lured to piracy as a way out of poverty. In that respect, these programmes need to focus on the benefits to the individual if they are to affect and change the social behaviour of these citizens and deter the younger generations from seeing any criminal activity and thus piracy. A collaborative regional and international approach to the local socioeconomic context of the affected communities remains the key factor that will offer a possible solution against maritime piracy.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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