Pirate Mania: Counter-Piracy and the Security-Development Nexus in Somalia

Brittany Gilmer, Florida International University

Anti-Piracy OperationsFollowing the 2009 hijacking of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama and kidnapping of its captain, rethinking the existing framework for combating piracy off the coast of Somali was next to inevitable. The Maersk Alabama hijacking not only raised questions about the size and capabilities of existing military deterrence efforts, but it also sparked discussions of increasing private security aboard shipping vessels. Since the introduction of private security aboard shipping vessels, the number of successful piracy attacks has steadily decreased. However, despite the steady decrease, counter piracy actors were calling for an expansion of the counter piracy framework to include strategies for combating piracy onshore in Somalia. In addition, counter piracy programming began seeping into the mandates of organizations that did not traditionally address piracy. The simultaneous expansion of the international counter piracy regime was co-constitutive of a growing sense of pirate mania. Until now, the geopolitics, actors, and motives behind these intersecting phenomena have not been examined in depth. Brittany Gilmer fills this gap in her book on Political Geographies of Piracy, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan in October 2014.

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Strategies for Resolving Maritime Disputes: Privatization vs. Institutionalization

Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, University of Iowa and Stephen C. Nemeth, Oklahoma State University

Finding ways to resolve maritime disputes and to peaceably allocate maritime resources has become an important concern in international politics. Increasing global population growth combined with the increasing scarcity of some maritime resources has resulted in more frequent diplomatic claims between countries over maritime areas in the last few decades. Recent clashes between Japan and China over the maritime space around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands highlight the tensions that can arise in situations where two states make competing maritime claims. Japan and China have issued competing ownership claims, engaged in controversial attempts to drill for oil and natural gas, issued threats of air space violations in the area, and authorized clashes between their coast guard vessels over the islands. While both states have pursued strategies to privatize the area around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands through Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims, they have also sought to resolve their differences through a global institution, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

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The Maritime Dimension of Conflict Prevention and Resolution: Lessons Learned from East Africa

Francois Vreÿ, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Africa’s maritime domain has steadily emerged as an important security landscape for Africans as well as for the wider international community. This importance is portrayed by the ever-growing number of naval vessels in African waters, but also in the turn to maritime matters taking place in the peace and security agenda of the African Union. It cannot be ignored that piracy off Somalia set the scene for much of the global maritime awakening. However, it is also necessary to place events off Africa within the wider realm of responses to conflict. Conflict prevention and conflict resolution are established ways to react to complex conflicts. Over time both have matured in a way that offers some useful pathways to understand and respond to the threats and conflicts of the early 21st century. Yet much of the learning curve to prevent or resolve complex and dangerous violent conflicts took place on land. Nevertheless Africa is experiencing rather dangerous and violent maritime spill-overs of landward conflicts. Though the international response is encapsulated by naval missions doing anti-piracy, a recent article in the Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, argues that it is also time to set the ongoing and even future maritime missions off Africa within the larger conflict resolution framework. East Africa offers the leeway to bring together some elements of theory and practice of maritime conflict resolution.

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What can Shippers do against Pirate Attacks? Insights from Situational Crime Prevention

By Jon. M. Shane and Shannon Magnuson, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City

The shipping industry cannot rely on the navies and traditional law enforcement to protect them from pirate attacks and to hold pirates accountable. Patrolling the open waters is different from patrolling on land, crime is easier to perpetrate, harder to detect and harder to prevent. When pirates attack, an armed confrontation is likely, and violence occurs rather frequently (almost 37% in this study). The effectiveness of traditional law enforcement and prosecution efforts are limited in an international context, particularly when dealing with failed states. The limitations of traditional law enforcement are reflected in the dramatic increases in yearly piracy incidents. Even when traditional law enforcement operations are successful, the prosecution is beset by numerous delays and legal obstacles and incarceration is never guaranteed, all of which may attenuate the deterrent effect of arrest and prosecution. However, a recent study in Justice Quarterly argues that pirate attacks are not inevitable. Merchant marines and their vessels can protect themselves by taking measures that alter the transit environment. Situational crime prevention theory provides the framework for proactively deterring offending, in this case maritime piracy.

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Illegal Fishing and Organized Crime: A Threat to Maritime Security?

Don Liddick, Penn State-Fayette

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is a significant transnational crime problem that costs developing nations up to $15 billion in economic losses annually (Liddick 2011). Perpetrators include established organized crime groups as well as commercial fishing operations; moreover the incidence of IUU fishing is often shaped and facilitated by corrupt public officials. Various economic drivers, the exceptionally high value of some species, and the Flag of Convenience (FOC) system of vessel registration contribute to the significance of the problem. Negative environmental impacts involve the depletion of fish stocks, damage to coral reefs, and stress on marine mammals and birds. Social and economic impacts are severe as well, and are most especially prevalent in developing nations. While an impressive number of initiatives, public and private, have been undertaken to address the problem, the very conditions that give rise to IUU fishing render attempts to combat the problem quite difficult. Don Liddick analyses the problem of illegal fishing in a recent article in Trends in Organized Crime.

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Counter-Piracy Lite? The EU’s ‘Soft’ Maritime Security Drive in the Gulf of Guinea

By Brendan Flynn, National University of Ireland

Operation Atalanta (EU NAVFOR) has unquestionably grabbed the limelight as the EU’s most important contribution to combating piracy. However, that mission’s mandate ends in 2014, and while it may be extended it appears to be scaling down as the piracy epidemic off the coast of Somalia has much reduced. Does this mean the EU is no longer interested in anti-piracy? Not really, but perhaps the emphasis is shifting towards softer (and cheaper) maritime security initiatives.

This summer alone the EU’s Maritime Strategy has been published which includes anti-piracy as a key theme, although the document itself is a rather disappointing mish-mash of many concerns. Of more direct relevance has been the steady progress of a dedicated EU anti-piracy mission for the Gulf of Guinea the so-called CRIMGO initiative (Critical Maritime Routes Gulf of Guinea). This project is actually one of several “Crimson” initiatives which were pioneered since 2008 by the Commission Directorate for Development. These are tailored to specific trade routes, with ones for the Straits of Malacca, Indian Ocean, etc.

CRIMGO is very different to Operation Atalanta but rather closer to the EUCAP NESTOR mission. For one thing there is no question of any permanent naval patrols in West African waters by EU navies. Secondly, much of the action takes place on land. The core of CRIMGO is about training local maritime security and anti-piracy elites and developing capacities to tackle the problem locally. Note, there is no EU building up of the actual hard infrastructure to combat piracy, such as through transfers of vessels, aircraft, drones or others measures.

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Towards Blue Justice: Common Heritage and Common Interest in the Maritime

Peter Sutch, Cardiff University

The importance and complexity of our political, economic and environmental relationship to the sea makes the evolution of a contemporary normative vision of the maritime essential. We need Blue Justice for the blue economy and for the increasingly contentious politics of the maritime. In this blog I want to make a plea for a renewed political theory of the Maritime – A second Grotian moment that generates a Mare Iustitia rather than a Mare Liberum.

In a recent and fascinating piece on this website, Barry J. Ryan urged a critical engagement with the sea and its architecture of freedom and argued persuasively for a normative vision for the sea. Because readers of this blog will have access to that work I want to start there and begin to outline the contours of blue justice. Barry Ryan took the tensions between the freedom of the sea and the idea that the sea is the common heritage of mankind (as well as our outdated distinction between politics on land and politics at sea) as the starting point for his critical and normative argument. He also showed how powerful states carve up this common heritage securing for themselves, rather than mankind, the commercial and military benefits of our common freedom of the sea. We can learn a lot from this – we clearly need normative principles that encourage us to pursue activities in the maritime with at least some concession to the common good. But the foundations of blue justice are such that determining the common good is even more complex than this suggests. The multiple and fragmented legal frameworks that apply to the sea divide the maritime as much as the freedom grabbing of littoral states. Read more →

International Relations Must Challenge the Freedom of Security at Sea

Barry J Ryan, Keele University

We should be embarrassed that so little has been written about the politics of the sea in the field of International Relations (IR). Traditionally limited to the study of relations between states, even the cultural turn that so reinvigorated scholarship in IR a few decades ago has maintained the focus of research on political phenomena that occur on land. Flicking through a basic textbook in IR one would be forgiven for concluding that IR is a landlocked discipline. As a discipline, its knowledge of the role played by the sea in global history is, simply put, too basic and thus dangerous. More often than not it comes down to simplistic statements about the freedom of the sea that are too rarely critically challenged. The danger lies when maritime commentary bases its analysis on this freedom, writing about it as though it has always existed, that it is sacrosanct and that it must be maintained for the good of humanity. Military intervention is usually justified on the basis that the freedom of the sea is a fundamental principle of human progress. The open sea, we are told, must be secured, for commercial reasons, for environmental reasons, and for moral reasons. Read more →

What Future for the Contact Group on Somali Piracy? Options for Reform

Christian Bueger, Cardiff University

2016 marks the beginning of the transition of the counter-piracy response in the Horn of Africa. Many states have already significantly reduced their involvement in counter-piracy. Recent revisions of the counter-piracy architecture raise the question of what the future holds for the main coordination body, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS).


Recently, the High Risk Area has been revised, which documents that international stakeholders are altering the approach they take to contain piracy. While the US-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) have announced in July 2015 to continue their operation, the mandates of the two other missions, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and the EU’s EUNAVFOR Atalanta, are under review. There are clear expectations that the EU will continue the mission in one form or another and maintain the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa, important for situational awareness in the area. These developments need to be seen against the backdrop of the assessment that no large scale piracy attack was successful since 2012. Notwithstanding, the threat of piracy in the region persists. This is clearly highlighted by the 2015 threat assessment of the military missions and further evidenced by recent reports of low scale hijackings and hostage taking attempts.  Read more →

Contemporary Piracy as an Issue of Academic Inquiry: A Bibliography

Jan Stockbruegger, Brown University, & Christian Bueger, Cardiff University

We have compiled a new version of the Piracy Studies Bibliography, which you can access as PDF here.

The aim of this bibliography is to gather a comprehensive collection of academic works on contemporary (post WWII) maritime piracy, with a focus on academic books, journals and working paper. In addition the bibliography includes some titles on the history of piracy, and some general interest literature on piracy. The present version includes almost 600 entries. It documents the extent to which piracy has become a serious issue of academic inquiry, and how investigations of piracy contribute to general discourse and debates in International Relations, Area Studies, Maritime Studies, International Law, Criminology, and other disciplines. We hope that this bibliography helps you a little bit to find your way through the piracy studies literature. Please access the bibliography here.

Economic Factors for Piracy: The Effect of Commodity Price Shocks

Alexander Knorr, University of Colorado

The_Battle_of_Trafalgar_by_William_Clarkson_StanfieldModern maritime piracy has become a significant issue which costs the global economy $24.5 billion per year. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) reports that attacks in major waterways have increased over the past decades. Extensive research has been done with regard to countering piracy and understanding the resurgence of attacks since the early ‘90s. What are the mechanisms which drive different people in different countries across the globe to all participate in such illegal activities? One of these mechanisms is addressed in a research notes article recently published in the journal Studies in Conflicts and Terrorism.

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Norm Subsidiarity in Maritime Security: Why East Asian States Cooperate in Counter-Piracy

Terrence Lee and Kevin McGahan, National University of Singapore

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are the three key littoral countries that border the Straits of Malacca, a major waterway and transit area in Southeast Asia which has traditionally witnessed a fair amount of maritime piracy through the ages.  While these countries generally hold many things in common, such as historical, linguistic and cultural ties, they are also differ significantly in terms of strategic and economic interests.  Despite these important differences, why have Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia been able to cooperate in implementing and enforcing an anti-piracy regime that has been relatively effective? In a recently published article in the Pacific Review, we seek to engage this research question. We initially draw on theories in international relations that are informed by rational choice to explain international cooperation, namely neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. We argue that key developments of the anti-piracy regime are not fully explained by such rationalist theories, which often stress strategic and material interests of states. In fact, despite rising levels of piracy in the Straits that threatened commercial and strategic goals, for many years the littoral states demonstrated only modest cooperative initiatives.

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