Piracy: New Efforts in Addressing this Enduring Problem

Sandra L. Hodgkinson, Kevin Kelly, Thomas H. Van Horn, Gregory P. Noone, Kathleen P. Mctighe, Michael Arcati, Christian P. Fleming, Philip N. Fluhr, John S. Han, Johnathan Shapiro, Raghav Kotval, & Byron Divins | Article

“In an honest service there are commonly low wages and hard labour: in piracy, satiety, pleasure and ease, liberty and power . . . . [A] merry life and a short one shall be my motto.”

— Captain Bartholomew Roberts, aka “Black Bart,” notorious pirate in the seventeenth century

Human beings, whether on land or at sea, have always had to choose between leading an honest, hardworking existence and leading a life of crime. Those who put to sea and choose the latter, we call pirates–and there have been no shortage of them. Pirates have long menaced the high seas, seeking harbors and ports to plunder and pillage for treasure. Although a 1696 trial at the Old Bailey deemed that “piracy is only a sea-term for robbery” that was “committed within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty,” it continues to emerge in new forms over time. As the twenty-first century unfolds, the world again confronts piracy. Rather than the romanticized “Black Bart” Roberts, today’s pirates are often found in small dhows off the coast of Somalia armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Some supply themselves with modern-age sextants, namely global positioning devices, and walkie-talkies. These new pirates have seized large tankers carrying oil or chemicals–cargoes valued up to $100 million–as far as several hundred miles off the coast of Somalia. In 2008, pirates attacked 141 vessels off the Horn of Africa; in 2010, the number increased to 160 vessel attacks, which resulted in the capture of 53 ships in the region; and in the first half of 2011, there were already 177 pirate attacks. These attacks continue today. [Read more…]

Given the proximity of these new pirate attacks to ongoing acts of terrorism off the Horn of Africa, some might argue that these new pirate attacks are part and parcel of modern-day terrorism. However, as this Article will discuss, we have found no empirical evidence suggesting that these attacks are currently motivated by political or ideological goals. More likely, these new pirate attacks are motivated by greed and material gain and should be dealt with using existing international and maritime law. Poverty and ongoing political instability in the region also contribute to the problem.

The primary purpose of this Article is to analyze what authority exists under international and maritime law to address the increased threat to peace and security posed by international piracy. This Article begins with a description of the recent rise in piracy. It next turns to a historical survey of the crime of piracy and the various international and U.S. domestic laws applicable to it. The Article then addresses current U.S. policy on piracy, before turning to a discussion of how the international community has addressed the modern piracy threat through international agreements, international working groups, interdiction efforts, and prosecution. Next, it addresses some unique current issues related to piracy, including U.S. efforts to protect its own vessels. Lastly, this Article concludes with a summary of the current legal landscape and outlines areas where further action may be necessary in order to effectively address this growth in modern-day piracy.