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Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea: Taking Initiative

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Table of contents

  1. Background
  2. United Nations Involvement
  3. Country Policies and Solutions


Piracy is known as the violent attacks directed against any private naval transport by another separate party on the high seas without the jurisdiction of a particular state. Armed robbery, similar to piracy, is the same violent attacks but in territorial waters under a state’s legislation. While piracy has been an issue for centuries, the end of the Cold War brought forth a modern age as pirates capitalized on especially weak regions like Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.

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Somalia generated global concern in 2005 when it became the worst case of piracy and armed robbery in the world. As a direct result of Somalia’s political instability throughout history, piracy became an organized business that drove Somalia’s now violent economy. By 2012, piracy and armed robbery totaled around USD 34-101 million in ransoms, stolen cash and stolen property.

Like Somalia, many other countries, including Nigeria, have poor cooperation with other states, corrupt government, and lack the resources to fight piracy and armed robbery in order to restore political stability. 200,000 barrels of oils are lost to Nigerian pirates daily, causing Nigeria’s economy to lose USD 202 million from 2006-2008 from decreases in crude oil exports, which is 80% of their revenue.

Worldwide involvement to resolve the issue have been quickly enacted to combat the ever-growing crime. While the results are positive, the South China Sea, West Africa, and the Western Indian Ocean region now have the highest piracy rates. Piracy and armed robbery remains an issue but complications with prosecution, extradition, other legislation and new developments still call for more solutions

United Nations Involvement

In response to the growing issue, North American and European operations, such as the Commission of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice (CCPCJ), Security Council (SC), General Assembly (GA), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the task forces derived from these programs worked to secure ships, improve defensive technology, and rewrite legislation that allowed piracy and armed robbery to reach its newest low in 2017 with only 188 reports through the entire year.

The United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT), recognized the dangers of piracy becoming a beneficial organized business as it already did in Somalia. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) helps clearly define piracy for the passing of information around internationally in Article 101, and the United Nations Development Programme warns developing countries to crackdown on corruption now before it is used as a tool for widespread chaos.

In an effort to raise prosecution levels, General Assembly’s Model Treaty on Extradition states the ground through which states can reject a request to transfer suspected or prosecuted criminals from another country. The UNODC’s Counter Piracy Programme (CPP) works with Kenya, the Republic of Seychelles, Mauritius, Tanzania, Somalia, and the Maldives by providing training of police forces, forensic equipment to better convict criminals, interpreters to break the language barrier in the court of law, legislation, facilities, and extradition participation to make prosecution more common and effective.

Donna Leigh, the UN chair on piracy in Somalia, believes that the glamorization of piracy can be squashed by mass prosecutions, forcing more citizens to turn to other options. Since the UN Security Council passed resolutions 1814, 1816, 1838, 1846, and 1851 which authorized states to patrol and pursue Somalian pirates, the UNODC has become an extremely committed asset to piracy and armed robbery especially as it continues to evolve. To continue solving safety and order at sea, political, economic and social instability, the UNODC fill the loopholes within state and international legislation to compliment any new initiatives, and to assist navy and anti-piracy forces that are spread wide across the mass of the ocean.

The UNODC continues to search for alternative livelihoods through cooperation for info, new policies and improving criminal justice systems. The UNODC has funded the President of Puntland, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, and opened the biggest prison on the Horn of Africa in April 2014 that can hold up to 500 pirates. The UNODC has to ensure that prisons like these will have fair trials and security while the Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme ensures the convicted are delivered to serve sentence. Their Global Programme against Money Laundering denies profits by stopping cash flow. To ensure the long-term effects of their efforts, the UNODC aims to educate young Somalis and other impoverished countries to raise awareness and encourage the avoidance of such a crime.

Country Policies and Solutions

Germany is a leading industrial nation in Europe and an economic maritime super power with a total of 3,716 merchant ships, the third largest merchant fleet. The German merchant fleet is often targeted by pirates, like the attacks on the Hansa Stavanger in 2009 and Taipan in 2010. By 2011, there were 64 reports of attacks against German shipping lines. About 70% of German imports and exports are made through sea trade, meaning safe shipping routes are the backbone of the German economy and it is in their best interest to combat piracy and armed robbery on all fronts.

Germany is an active founding member of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia and continues to be invested in the five working groups. It is the lead nation in supporting state initiatives to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia and is a Board of Trust member that deals with prosecution. In short, Germany supports the European Union and the UNODC in all investigations and prosecutions against piracy and armed robbery.

The German Cabinet agreed on a licensing procedure for security companies on board ships with intense requirements and detailed legislation. The new legislation is under the control of the Federal Office of Economics and Expert Control (BAFA) with the support and consultation of the Federal Police. This means only licensed teams with government-approved documents will be allowed to protect German trade ships.

Only semi-automatic weapons will be allowed and firms will have to pay $9,800 for licenses. Insurance companies sometimes refuse coverage if a ship chooses to sail without armed security guards and those that do raise their rates nearly 300 times more for sailing through high risk areas. However, pirates have not successfully captured a ship with private guards, lowering the success rates in high risk areas. Germany hopes that the success of armed guards will lower insurance rates as well as piracy rates as a long term effect. While armed security guards are a relatively new option still and many states like Indonesia don’t allow foreign ships with these armed guards to travel in their waters, Germany encourages other countries to introduce corresponding laws.

The legislation was recommended by the IMO and was welcomed by German Shipowners’ Association VDR. However, the legislation cannot control guard actions out at sea as unfortunately demonstrated by the deaths of two Indian fishermen thought to be pirates by two Italian marines in February 2014. The government coordinator for the maritime industry, Hans-Joachim Otto believes that all standards will be fulfilled with the new legislation so incidents like that may not happen again.

In December 2008, Germany joined the EU Naval Force Operation Atalanta which worked mostly to protect merchant shipping that carried humanitarian aid for Somalia. In May 2012, Operation Atalanta was extended to fight piracy on land as well as participate in the EU Training Mission to train naval units, coast guards, and police from relevant coastal nations. They have already trained up to 3,000 troops in Uganda for Somalia. Operation Atalanta can conduct airstrikes up to 2,000 meters inland (no German soldiers are allowed to touch Somali soil) to combat piracy headquarters and gathering places on land.

The training of naval units can increase coastal border patrol, stopping pirates from reaching open seas ten times the size of Germany, where it is more difficult to track them with only fifteen active ships restricted by different mandates. Operation Atalanta is one of many international responses, yet different mandates and priorities can render some ineffective. Germany calls for operational cooperation in order to balance restrictions between programs and better attack piracy and armed robbery.

Germany’s naval troop training can improve political stability in the developing countries most affected by piracy. The increasing of coast guard control and the introduction of more advanced technology like boats with GPS and navigation can help track criminals easily. Piracy dropped 50% in Chittagong Port in 2012 after the government invested in these new developments. More patrols along the coast and better technology can also track down “mother ships” and pirates hiding in the tough geography along coasts.

With governments regaining control over the issue, they can enforce legislation like monitoring the movement of boats in and out of ports to catch faux boats and improve security in ports. A weak state breeds piracy and international help cannot completely combat the issue until the states assume authority. Germany requests that states accept foreign aid to train naval troops, learn to cooperate and exchange data with neighboring states to stop infiltration in territorial waters, and regain national control.

Another way for states to establish authority and sovereignty is through prosecution, shown to be a major deterrent for piracy. In Germany, convicted pirates can see life sentences for their crimes. Mohamed Abdi Hassan, a Somali pirate, announced his retirement after going on trial in Belgium. When the criminals are caught in international waters, the capturers can try them in their own systems. When they are caught in territorial waters, the state doesn’t always have to prosecute and many don’t due to expenses.

In 2010, Russia let some pirates free so they wouldn’t have to pay the expenses of feeding them and Kenya backed out of a bilateral treaty with the EU so they wouldn’t have to accept any more pirates in their overcrowded prisons. Germany supports the UNODC efforts to improve criminal justice systems in developing states through the constructions of more prisons, the Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme, and the General Assembly’s Model Treaty of Extradition. With improvements in prosecution and extradition efficiency, pirates will find it less appealing to commit the crime.

Piracy makes most of its revenue from ransom money, which is reinvested in weapons, smuggling, human and drug trafficking. Somali pirates obtain ten times more money than their regular jobs through piracy. Germany supports the UNODC efforts to provide an alternative lifestyle to piracy. It supports the spreading of awareness in the youth of developing countries to recognize the consequences of being caught in piracy and lower the rates of child recruitment by adult pirates. Germany believes that improving the fishing industry will allow for better economies in developing states.

Currently, fishermen avoid dangerous areas to avoid piracy, which can also lead them to miss fruitful areas. With the crackdowns on piracy, Germany hopes these areas will be open for fishing. Germany also supports legislation to ban foreign ships from dumping toxic waste off the Horn of Africa and from excessively fishing in domestic areas. This would provide the ideal alternative lifestyle as opposed to piracy. However, piracy is still extremely fruitful in ransoms, so Germany supports the UNODC’s Global Programme against Money Laundering which will stop cash flow and benefits for both pirates and their benefactors, while also limiting access to illicit arms trade.

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Germany’s economy depends on the safety of their trade ships and is willing to do whatever it takes in order to ensure it. Actively participating in fight against piracy and armed robbery can only be beneficial to states, and Germany encourages all states to invest against the issue.

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