Seeking Effectiveness for the Crackdown of Piracy at Sea

By Keyuan, Zou | Journal of International Affairs, Fall-Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Seeking Effectiveness for the Crackdown of Piracy at Sea


Keyuan, Zou, Journal of International Affairs


Piracy is traditionally regarded as hostis humani generis, the enemy of the human race. Pirates commit acts of murder, robbery, plunder, rape or other villainous deeds at sea, cruelly against humanity. Piracy is punishable wherever encountered. (1) Since the early 1990s, piracy has resurged and even increased in some places in the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. According to a report prepared by the International Chamber of Commerce's (ICC) International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Center (IMB-PRC), between 1 January and 30 June 1999, there were 300 piracy incidents around the world. The total number of piratical incidents from 1984 to the end of March 2002 was 2,626. (2) According to a report issued by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), pirate attacks have tripled in the last decade. The number of attacks in the first quarter of 2003 had already equaled the total number of recorded pirate attacks for the whole of 1993. (3) During that time, Southeast Asia was categorized as one of the most active piracy zones with seven key "pirate-prone areas." (4) In 2000 alone, piracy in this region accounted for 65 percent of total global incidents. In 2002, Indonesia's were the world's most pirate-infested waters, with 22 of the 87 attacks reported worldwide (there were 32 in Southeast Asian seas) between January and March. (5) For such reasons, the UN General Assembly, for the first time in 1998, called on all states, in particular coastal states in affected regions, to take all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent and combat incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea. Following the 9/11 attacks, piracy has allegedly been connected to maritime terrorism, and the two have since been mentioned together in mass media and government statements. (6) Moreover, the Bush administration has deemed terrorism just as immoral as piracy, the slave trade and genocide and some believe that piracy constitutes a modern threat to world peace and security. (7)

Sea lanes in Southeast Asia are of vital interest to East Asian countries. More than half of the world's merchant fleet capacity sails through the Straits of Malacca, Sunda and Lombok and the South China Sea. (8) More than 10,000 vessels of greater than 10,000 dead weight tons (dwt) move southward through the South China Sea annually, with well over 8,000 proceeding in the opposite direction. (9) In addition, with the rapid growth of the East Asian economy, the recent trend toward greater intra-Asian trade (relative to trade with Europe and North America) results in more shipping in the littoral waters of Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. (10) Thus the sea routes in the region are usually regarded as economic lifelines for East Asian countries, particularly Japan. However, piracy endangers the safety of navigation. Recent cases, including the Cheung Son and the Tenyu, demonstrated that pirates hijacked merchant vessels, killed crew members and/or robbed valuables on board the ships. (11)

Environmental concerns also bear some relevance to piracy and have raised alarm in the world community. (12) A piratical attack on an oil tanker, for instance, could feasibly cause an oil spill disaster. It goes without saying that the potential for a catastrophic accident involving one or more vessels carrying environmentally destructive cargoes is huge. Incidentally, many piratical occurrences have taken place in areas of natural beauty or of international environmental significance, such as the South China Sea. According to one statistic, over 25 percent of the pirate attacks recorded in the Violence at Sea database of the IMB-PRC are against some variety of tanker.

Finally, a new form of piracy is on the horizon, one that involves the hijacking of entire ships. There is wide speculation that these piratical incidents, which occurred in East Asia, involved organized criminals since such large-scale theft, and the subsequent resale of cargo, requires impressive resources and sophisticated planning. …

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