Maritime piracy, a centuries-old threat, continues to cast its shadow on the modern seas, affecting global trade, maritime security, and the safety of seafarers. Read here to understand the menace of piracy.
Recently, an India-bound cargo ship was hijacked in the Red Sea by the Houthi Rebels.
With more than 90% of global trade carried out by sea, the economic effect of maritime crime is a heavy burden on affected nations that rely on shipping and maritime trade activity.
The Gulf of Guinea is a major hub for maritime criminality and has over the recent years experienced an escalation of piracy and armed robbery at sea incidents.
This article explores the menace of maritime piracy, its impact on India, and the collaborative global efforts aimed at curbing this perilous activity.
Maritime piracy refers to criminal acts committed on the high seas, involving robbery, hijacking, or kidnapping for ransom.
Historically concentrated in certain regions, piracy has persisted as a significant threat due to the vastness of international waters, inadequate law enforcement, and the potential for lucrative gains.
Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) determines that Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
- on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
- against a ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
(b) any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).
The Menace of Maritime Piracy
- Economic Impact: Maritime piracy poses a severe economic threat by disrupting global trade routes. Piracy incidents lead to increased shipping costs, insurance premiums, and delays in cargo deliveries. These economic repercussions affect not only the shipping industry but also contribute to the rising costs of goods for consumers worldwide.
- Human Cost: Beyond the economic toll, maritime piracy exacts a human cost. Seafarers face the risk of violence, abduction, and even loss of life. Prolonged captivity in pirate strongholds creates harrowing conditions for those unfortunate enough to fall victim to these criminal acts. The psychological toll on seafarers and their families is immeasurable.
- Impact on Regional Stability: Piracy often thrives in regions with political instability and weak governance. The activities of pirate networks can exacerbate existing tensions, contribute to lawlessness, and hinder socio-economic development in affected areas.
India’s Experience with Maritime Piracy
India, with its extensive coastline and a significant maritime trade footprint, has not been immune to the threat of piracy.
The Indian Ocean, a vital maritime highway, has witnessed pirate activities near the Gulf of Aden, affecting vessels transiting through this strategic waterway.
- Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean: The Gulf of Aden, located between Yemen and Somalia, has been a piracy hotspot. Indian vessels, along with those of many other nations, have been targeted by pirates seeking ransom or engaging in cargo theft. The threat extends into the wider Indian Ocean, impacting trade routes vital to India’s economic interests.
- Impact on Trade: India’s reliance on maritime trade makes it susceptible to disruptions caused by piracy. The cost of piracy, including insurance premiums, security measures, and rerouting of vessels, places a strain on the country’s economy. Furthermore, the risk of piracy influences decisions regarding shipping routes, impacting the efficiency of India’s trade networks.
- Naval Response: Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Indian Navy has actively contributed to anti-piracy efforts. Operation Atalanta, India’s naval deployment in the Gulf of Aden, showcases the nation’s commitment to ensuring the safety of its vessels and those of other nations in the region. Multinational cooperation, including joint patrols and intelligence sharing, has been a cornerstone of India’s strategy to combat piracy.
Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2022
The Bill enables Indian authorities to take action against piracy in the high seas. The Bill brings into law the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It applies to the sea beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), i.e., beyond 200 nautical miles from India’s coastline.
- The Bill defines piracy as any illegal act of violence, detention, or destruction committed against a ship, aircraft, person, or property, for private purposes, by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft.
- Such acts may be carried out in the high seas (beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone of India) or any place outside the jurisdiction of India. Inciting or intentionally facilitating such acts would also qualify as piracy.
- It includes any other act that is considered piratical under international law.
Global Efforts to Curb Piracy
The international community has responded to the menace of maritime piracy with concerted efforts aimed at enhancing maritime security, protecting trade routes, and ensuring the safety of seafarers.
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS): UNCLOS provides the legal framework for addressing piracy at the international level. It delineates the rights and responsibilities of states concerning the use of the seas and establishes the jurisdiction for prosecuting pirates. UNCLOS has played a crucial role in shaping global responses to piracy and facilitating cooperation among nations.
- Combined Maritime Forces (CMF): CMF, a multinational naval partnership, operates in the Indian Ocean region to counter piracy, terrorism, and other illegal activities. The Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151) specifically focuses on anti-piracy efforts, conducting patrols and coordinating with regional navies to deter and disrupt pirate activities.
- European Union Naval Force Operation Atalanta: Operation Atalanta, launched by the European Union in 2008, is a naval mission dedicated to combating piracy off the coast of Somalia. It involves the deployment of naval assets, including warships and maritime patrol aircraft, to ensure the security of shipping lanes and deter pirate activities.
- Industry Best Practices and Guidelines: The shipping industry has actively contributed to anti-piracy efforts by adopting best practices and guidelines for vessel security. Measures such as the use of secure transit corridors, employing onboard security personnel, and enhancing communication and coordination among vessels have contributed to reducing the vulnerability of ships to pirate attacks.
- Regional Cooperation: Regional organizations and initiatives, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the Djibouti Code of Conduct, play a vital role in fostering regional cooperation to address maritime security challenges. By sharing information, conducting joint patrols, and building capacity among coastal states, these initiatives contribute to a collective effort against piracy.
- Public-Private Partnerships: Collaboration between governments, private shipping companies, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has proven effective in countering piracy. Initiatives like the Maritime Security Centre – Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) provide a platform for information exchange and coordination between naval forces and the shipping industry.
The menace of maritime piracy remains a complex and evolving challenge that demands a multifaceted response from the global community. India, with its extensive maritime interests, actively contributes to international efforts to curb piracy through naval deployments, diplomatic initiatives, and cooperation with other affected nations.
Global endeavors, such as UNCLOS, CMF, and industry-driven best practices, underscore the recognition that piracy is a shared threat requiring collaborative solutions.
By addressing the root causes of piracy, enhancing maritime security infrastructure, and fostering international cooperation, the world can make strides toward a future where seafarers can navigate the seas without the looming specter of piracy.
As the global community continues to unite against this maritime menace, the hope is to create safer waters, secure trade routes, and a more resilient maritime ecosystem for all nations.
Related Article: Maritime Security Challenges
-Article by Swathi Satish