The problem of maritime piracy or armed robbery at sea, which has existed since time immemorial, has periodically attracted the increased attention of peoples and their rulers, forcing them to respond in some way. The past years of the twenty-first century have been no exception. What is it connected with? What is maritime piracy today, and what is it likely to become in the coming years if we do not act decisively against it?
The past decade and a half has been a period of increased attention to the problem of maritime piracy and armed robbery against ships. These years, I believe, have been the beginning of a new phase in addressing the perennial problem. Why a new stage? It has many peculiarities, suffice it to mention the most obvious ones.
According to UN statistics, maritime cargo transportation in the world now accounts for almost 80% of all international cargo turnover, i.e. maritime navigation has become truly international, and, consequently, maritime piracy and maritime robbery have become problems not of one or several countries, as it was two or three decades ago.
The living, economic and social conditions in a number of countries continue to be extremely unfavorable and even worsening, providing fertile ground for the existence and development of various radical and extremist movements, as well as for the growth and spread of criminal groups of all kinds, including maritime piracy. Piracy is increasingly intertwined with such criminal acts as terrorism, the illegal proliferation of weapons and the robbery of ships and their crews in the territorial waters of States, drug trafficking and illegal migration using various means of watercraft.
Geography of maritime piracy and armed robbery
Modern piracy – piracy in recent years – has manifested itself in the areas of Somalia (Somali piracy), the Gulf of Guinea (Nigerian piracy) and parts of Asia (Asian piracy). There have been isolated incidents in other regions of the world (other parts of Africa, South America).
Maritime pirates’ activity and the impact of their actions in those regions varied from year to year. The highest number of such incidents occurred in the Somali region (237 in 2011). Thereafter, the annual rate of such crimes globally began to decline due to the measures taken against them. Since 2013, Somali pirates have lost the leading position in the number of attacks and hijackings to their Nigerian counterparts, and in 2015 and the first half of 2016, the Somalis did not make a mark at all, owing to the concerted action of the international community in combating this scourge. Nigerians, on the other hand, had the highest number of attacks and hijackings in 2012. In 2015, they had a very modest performance with 14 attacks and 2 hijackings. However, counter-piracy experts have noticed for years that not all cases of Nigerian piracy and armed robbery are reported.
The number of pirate attacks in Asia, including Indonesia, during the same time period numbered no more than 5 per year (but 11 cases in 2014 and 13 in 2015), and together with cases of armed robbery and looting in territorial waters, the figure gradually rose to 187 in 2015.
The general downward trend of the past few years in the number of pirate attacks worldwide continued in 2016. In the first half of 2016, there were 98 incidents of maritime piracy and robbery worldwide, compared to 134 in the same period of 2015. In the first half of 2016, maritime robbers boarded 72 vessels, committed 5 hijackings and 12 other attempted attacks on maritime vessels. Sixty-four crew members were taken hostage on board vessels, compared to 250 in the same period last year.
This decrease in the number of piracy incidents worldwide is encouraging news and, as noted above, it is not a coincidence, but is due to the measures taken, in particular the continued deterrence of Somali pirates and the improved situation over the past year in the region of Indonesia.