Piracy, Terrorism Threats Overlap; Joint Patrols Urged in Southeast Asia

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 7, 2003 | Go to article overview

Piracy, Terrorism Threats Overlap; Joint Patrols Urged in Southeast Asia


Byline: Adam Young and Mark J. Valencia, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

HONOLULU - Images of walking the plank aside, piracy has made a spectacular comeback in recent years. Reported incidents have increased dramatically around the world, approaching nearly 400 annually.

Worldwide there were 103 attacks on ships in the first quarter of 2003, according to the International Maritime Bureau. In some cases, though, in the charged political atmosphere, the mass media and governments have blurred the line between piracy and acts of terrorism.

Such acts can appear similar, but it is important to understand that piracy and terrorism have different causes, objectives and tactics.

A good example is the March attack on several chemical tankers in the Strait of Malacca region by assailants with automatic weapons. Some of the ships were sprayed with bullets, while others were boarded silently. A New York Times article attributed the attacks to "terrorists." But it was later revealed that the attackers were apparently after only equipment and other valuables. In other words, they were pirates, albeit unusually bold and violent ones.

The precise definition of piracy and terrorism has been problematic for national and international policy-makers alike. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defines piracy as violence on the high seas, i.e., beyond any state's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.

The problem with this definition when applied to Southeast Asia is that most sea robberies occur within the 12-mile limit. Thus such incidents are not legally considered piracy and there is therefore no international agreement regarding most "maritime violence" or "sea robbery." Arrest and prosecution are solely dependent on the country in whose jurisdiction the crime occurs.

Uncertain or unresolved maritime boundaries in Southeast Asia further complicate the question of jurisdiction. Moreover, Southeast Asian countries jealously guard their sovereignty over territorial waters and deny cross-boundary "hot pursuit."

Maritime piracy encompasses a wide spectrum of criminal behavior, ranging from in-port pilferage and hit-and-run attacks to temporary seizure, long-term seizure and permanent theft of a ship.

Terrorism is also a complicated concept. The working definition of maritime terrorism is that of political piracy: " ... any illegal act directed against ships, their passengers, cargo or crew, or against sea ports with the intent of directly or indirectly influencing a government or group of individuals."

Terrorism is distinct from piracy in a straightforward manner. Piracy is a crime motivated by greed, and thus predicated on immediate financial gain. Terrorism is motivated by political goals beyond the immediate act of attacking or hijacking a maritime target. The motivating factor for terrorists is generally political ideology stemming from perceived injustices, both historical and contemporary.

Piracy and terrorism do overlap in several ways, particularly in the tactics of ship seizures and hijackings. And some of the circumstances that allow piracy and terrorism to flourish are similar, such as poverty, political instability, permeable international boundaries and ineffective enforcement. …

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