2011 Piracy Studies Workshop: Understanding Contemporary Maritime Piracy and the International Response

A one day research workshop, 30. September 2011, 9.30-17.30. Greenwich Maritime Institute, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, London, UK.

By Christian Bueger

Summary

Piracy has re-entered the global stage as a pressing security problem. Addressing piracy requires identifying better mechanisms of military deterrence, surveillance and protection, means of building regional capabilities, such as coast guards and police investigation teams, finding better ways of prosecuting pirate suspects and last but not least assisting state-building in Somalia. All this requires multilateral efforts and a high degree of coordination. The objective of this one day research workshop is to identify the contributions different academic disciplines and research paradigms can make to better understand the phenomenon of piracy and to assist in developing innovative policy options. The participants to this workshop all bring in a different academic (disciplinary) background and different experience in dealing with piracy. This includes legal studies, anthropology, security studies, criminology, development studies, African studies, computer sciences and political science perspectives.

Workshop Theme and Objectives

Piracy has re-entered the global stage as a pressing security problem. The dramatic increase of piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia has not only moved the problem of maritime piracy at the centre of international attention, but led to a broad international response of global security actors. An international armada, tasked with surveillance, patrolling and escorting merchant ships to interrupt piracy activity and arrest suspects has been send to the Gulf of Aden. The UN Security Council, NATO and the EU are active players attempting to do something about piracy along with a broad range of national governments including China, India or Pakistan and Iran. Several other regional and international organization aim at developing plans to contain piracy, including the IMO, The Arab League, the African Union, or UN agencies such as the UNODC.

Since the first navy vessels were sent to the Gulf in 2007 the situation has however not significantly improved. While the overall success rate of piracy attacks appears to have dropped, between 2008-2010 over 700 ships have been hijacked, and over 1000 crew members held hostage. Moreover there are signs that piracy gangs have adopted to counter-piracy measures, in increasing their operational terrain far into the Indian Ocean, taking higher personal risks and in using more and more sophisticated equipment and technology. Indeed, piracy gangs have shown astonishing resilience towards the preventive and reactive measures taken by the international community. As Jack Lang, the UN special adviser on piracy, phrased it, “the race between the pirates and the international community is progressively being won by the pirates”.[1]

One of the reasons for the lack of efficiency of the international efforts is the complexity of the piracy problem. To cite a representative from Panama, it is a “serious problem that links various key aspects of the work of the United Nations, from humanitarian elements to the impact this problem has on international trade, and from the overall situation in one of the most troubled spots in Africa to the consequences that this instability might have on the regional and global levels.”[2] It is a problem that concerns the state failure and civil war in Somalia, East African regional security, transnational organized crime, maritime security more broadly, private trading and shipping corporations, private military security companies, flag states and trade states. Addressing piracy requires identifying better mechanisms of military deterrence, surveillance and protection, means of building regional capabilities, such as coast guards and police investigation teams, finding better ways of prosecuting pirate suspects and last but not least assisting state-building in Somalia. All this requires multilateral efforts and a high degree of coordination. Phrased otherwise, there is a significant need for identifying implementable policy options. It is here were scholarly knowledge can make a difference.

The objective of this workshop is to identify the contributions different academic disciplines and research paradigms can make to better understand the phenomenon of piracy and to assist in developing innovative policy options. Understanding piracy, entails inquiring into the conditions that give rise to piracy, understanding the behavior and organizational structures of pirate gangs and networks, the link between pirates and host societies, as well as the behavioral patterns by which pirates react and adapt to or learn from international counter-measures. Developing innovative policy options will require asking what different international actors, including, but not limited to, the military, police, diplomats and development workers, shippers, insurer and trader can do differently. It will include asking what potential difference multilateral organizations, national governments and corporate actors can make to better contain piracy.

Piracy has so far been primarily framed as a legal and military-tactical problem. Addressed as a legal problem it is clear that international law is sufficiently developed to provide the legal basis for addressing piracy. Hence the focus has been on some intricate implementation problems, such as aligning national and international legislations. In the legal frame a better policy response is largely seen as requiring more efficient mechanisms of prosecution and guaranteed punishment, centrally by imprisonment. Framed as a military-tactical problem, the discussion on better counter-piracy responses centers on improving surveillance, identifying better tactics of interrupting piracy activity and better measures of protection including self-defense measures of merchant vessels or the use of private military protection. The legal and military-tactical frames are important dimensions in countering piracy, but it is important to recognize that paying attention to these alone is short-handed. Piracy is an inter-disciplinary problem, it is a legal and military problem, but it is also a problem of development, criminology or governance. For understanding and addressing piracy all sorts of social knowledge will be relevant. The explicit goal of this workshop is hence to facilitate a dialogue between such different types of knowledge. The participants to this workshop all bring in a different academic (disciplinary) background and different experience in dealing with piracy. This includes legal studies, anthropology, security studies, criminology, development studies, African studies, computer sciences and political science perspectives. Participants have moreover experience in the dialogue with different actors important to design and implement counter-piracy policies, this includes diplomats, development actors, military actors or the shipping community.

Abstracts

Piracy Studies – Relevance, Puzzles and Agendas

Dr. Christian Bueger (Greenwich Maritime Institute, Greenwich University, UK)

Piracy is an old as well as a contemporary problem of different dimensions. In this introductory presentation I discuss whether coping with piracy requires an academic project which can be dubbed as ‘piracy studies’. Following Dewey I argue that mastering a problem requires inquiry. I discuss some of the puzzles and agendas of piracy studies. I suggest that different disciplines can foster our understanding of piracy on different layers, and can inform together policy options geared towards governing piracy.

Five Obstacles in Addressing Piracy

Dr. Sarah Percy (University of Oxford, UK)

This presentation discusses five conclusions of a forthcoming article which would be illuminated by interdisciplinary study. We argue that there are 5 main obstacles to ending piracy in Somalia, and that each of these is illuminated by different disciplinary perspectives: 1) The lack of alternate employment at similar financial rates (economics; development studies); 2) Problems caused by corruption and pirate capture of the state (piracy is associated with corruption elsewhere as well) (development studies; post-conflict resolution in IR); 3) Piracy is a form of organized crime. This makes it difficult to overcome (think of the policing challenges against other organized crime groups even in very strong states, like the yakuza in Japan) but with the further challenge that piracy does not victimize the local community, meaning that there will be few incentives to drive out piracy. Further study would be useful from a sociological/criminological perspective. 4) Piracy straddles lines between security and crime, and therefore disciplinary lines between inside/outside. It ís a land based problem that manifests at sea, and a criminal problem with security ramifications, not unlike poppy production in Afghanistan. Therefore it requires attention to the division between war and crime. 5) Shipowners and insurers have the capacity but not the financial incentive to significantly reduce pirate attacks and bear a large measure of the responsibility for piracy.

Somali counter-piracy, international law and international cooperation: The shape of things to come?

Dr. Douglas Guilfoyle (University College London, UK)

The response to Somali piracy has seen an emphasis on decentralised, horizontal cooperation between States and international actors within a broad legal framework. The forms of coordination used have largely been matters of soft law and governance techniques. Despite the legal debate surrounding aspects of the international counter-piracy missions there have been few calls for the creation of new international law to deal with the situation. Equally, there has been no real support for the idea of an international piracy tribunal and a great deal of resistance to calls for new institutions such as an extra-territorial Somali court dedicated to prosecuting pirates. Where new legal instruments have been created, it has largely been at the bilateral level, to better enable criminal justice cooperation across jurisdictional. At all levels, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and its working groups have been a principal mechanism for sharing information and best-practice and instrumental in coordinating the response to Somali piracy. Yet it remains a loosely structured non-organisation with no formal decision-making power. Does the CGPCS represent a new form of horizontal transnational cooperation or is it simply a response to a unique set of circumstances with few wider implications?

Piracy as Global Security Problem

Candyce Kelshall (University of Buckingham, UK)

The deaths of the hostages aboard the SV Quest are a good indication that the rules in the hostage manual used by the Somali pirates have well and truly been re written. The new paradigm is venturing into completely new territory whereby the moderate treatment which the hostages have previously benefitted from and which the world has now come to expect has now evolved into hard core brutality and murder. Several months ago this analyst put forward the supposition that Somali activity should no longer be considered modern day acts of piracy but maritime terrorist activity by its simplest definition. The piracy definition applied to offshore Somali activity is itself a stretch. Piracy is an act which takes place outside the territorial waters of a sovereign state.  It is only since the advent of the International NATO and ATALANTA operations that Somali ‘pirate’ activity has been driven further offshore and outside the territorial waters of any countries that Somali activity could fall into the prevailing definition of piracy -violent acts against ships carried out on the high seas. Redefining piracy as has recently been done by several agencies by removing “high seas ” from the definition does a disservice both to seafarers and Somalia. Such a definition of the activities of Somali sea jackers and criminals introduces a situation whereby jurisdictional issues, mitigation problems and onshore solutions become un-definable. This is the place we are in now. Prior to this change in strategy ‘pirate’ activity was quite clearly territorial maritime crime but more importantly violent maritime crime carried out with the express intent of raising awareness of a political issue and generally designed to instill fear into seafarers in the waters off Somalia. Such activity must be viewed, treated, defined and mitigated against for what it is if there is to be any hope of resolving the issue. Only by correctly naming the crime can we effectively mitigate against it. While a great deal of effort and time is put into looking for connections with Al Shabaab so that it may be confirmed as terrorist in nature the fact  remains that this activity has been nothing but terrorist from its very outset. It is in fact a type of terrorism that is not unique to Somalia but to West and East Africa as a whole. It is terrorism Inc. whereby the act of making money using terrorist methods has been rewarded repeatedly. In Somalia we need to be proactive not responsive and this begins with re-evaluating our strategic decision making and indeed re assessing the entire range of options available. This includes reframing both response and definition of the problem. With the correct definition of the activity comes the ability to frame international requests for capacity building assistance which is relevant and appropriate to the nature of the illegal activity at the heart of this problem. Capacity building is crucial to enable the regional authorities in Somalia to develop law enforcement infrastructure and appropriate human and technical abilities. Drones cannot do this. Drones and military solutions, such as they are at present, create a bigger problem for the future, one that lies onshore as well as offshore.

What the shipping industry asks about piracy and what academics might want to investigate

Marie Walker (Hanson Wade, UK)

Hanson Wade’s Combating Piracy series of conferences brings together a broad mix of shipping owners/operators, associations, military, government and security experts. In the last two years we have run 10 events which are highly valued for their practical, useful content. We analyse the latest pirate tactics and share first hand accounts of hostage taking and ransom negotiation. We discuss prevention tactics, strengthening measures and hear what support is available from the military. However, at every meeting big questions remain unanswered. There is huge frustration and a sense of impotence across the shipping industry. They understand the scale of the piracy problem and appreciate the enormity of the onshore challenges but at all levels they have questions that aren’t being answered.  Fundamentally they feel abandoned. This presentation will attempt to shed light on the recurring questions, the reaction of key players to each and where they would benefit from academic investigation and creative thinking.

Critical Geopolitics and the EU’s Response to Piracy: The Construction of Space and the Normalization of Power Projection

Dr. Basil Germond (Lancaster University, UK)

Critical geopolitics highlights the construction of threats, space and identities along an inside-outside line, and the subsequent normalization of the practice of power projection beyond one’s own external boundary so as to obtain security within. When applied to the European Union’s response to piracy at the Horn of Africa, this approach allows understanding the role of geographical representations and the subsequent normalization of military responses to piracy.

Producing Security Space: Piracy Law and Circulation in the Gulf of Aden

Zoltan Gluck (CUNY Graduate Center, USA)

Following Foucault’s famous argument (1977-1978) that “security is a way of making the armatures of law and discipline function in addition to the specific mechanisms of security,” this paper seeks to understand how international maritime laws concerning piracy have become armatures in the contemporary production of a security space off the Horn of Africa. In a first section I offer an account of the rise of novel and complex institutional arrangements between states, militaries, local judiciaries and penitential systems in the regulation, governance and securitization of the maritime space of the so-called ‘Greater Gulf of Aden’. This account then provides the empirical material for the subsequent theoretical discussion of contemporary relations between security, discipline and law within these structures: it is argued that these current institutional arrangements (mechanism of power) have produced something which closely resembles Foucault’s notion of a “space of security” — a milieu in which the regulation of circulation is of primary importance. A second section is devoted to and extended treatment central concepts of circulation (as the central question of security) and space (namely, the question of its “production”) in Foucault and Marxian theory. Finally, in a third section I build on recent scholarship on the legal and geographic history of maritime empires and the historical sociology of the capitalist state to argue that contemporary production of security space is: (a) structured by a logic of securing the conditions for the circulation of capital; and (b) strongly determined by the peculiar historical conjuncture in which modern piracy law finally coalesced.

Agent-based Modelling of Maritime Piracy: Using Simulations to Better Understand the Operational Situation at Sea

Dr. Michal Jakob (Agent Technology Center, Czech Technical University in Prague, CZ)

Agent-based modelling has gained popularity as a useful technique for obtaining insights into the behaviour of complex adaptive systems in various fields, including economics, sociology and ecology. With its complex interactions between routes, schedules and engagement strategies, transit through piracy-affected waters is a problem very well suited for the application of this powerful modelling approach. Within the AgentC project, we have developed a data-driven, agent-based model of global maritime traffic explicitly accounting for the effects of maritime piracy. The model employs finite state machines to represent the behaviour of merchant, pirate and navy vessels. It can accurately replicate global shipping patterns and approximate real-world distribution of pirate attacks. By conducting and analysing results from thousands of simulation runs, the model allows to gain qualitative and quantitative insights into complex relationships governing piracy risks and costs. Because of its strong application potential, It is currently evaluated by the U.N. International Maritime Organization for potential use in assessing future operational counter-piracy measures, including transit corridors and group transit schemes.

Somali Piracy: Understanding the Criminal Business Model

George Kiourktsoglou (Greenwich University, UK)

The presentation features Somali Piracy not as a mere criminal activity that challenges and eventually breaches the international Law of the Seas, but rather as an elaborate business model. Based on Michael E. Porter’s theory of “Competitive Advantage(s)” Somali piracy is analysed in terms of its “National Determinants”. The analysis moves to flesh out the features of the phenomenon that have rendered it so uniquely successful and at the same time so appealing to questionable investors of sorts. Since Somalia does not feature a “Tradition in Piracy”, the presentation harks back to the confluence of parameters which eventually led to the present form of the phenomenon and it concludes with a set of high level strategic suggestions on how to more effectively counter the scourge in the long term. Given the recent post 9/11 paradigm, declaring war against pirates appears to be the logical step after this long period of international procrastination.  That said, a holistic approach to the menace will bear fruits only if it keenly includes within its scope the undeniable business nature of the phenomenon.

Primitive rebels or organised international criminals? Exploring notions of neutralisation in the analysis of Somali and Nigerian pirates

Dr. Axel Klein (University of Kent, UK)

Conventional approaches frame the activity of pirates as a problem that has to be suppressed. The viewpoint that is presented is that of the victims, usually shipping companies and their employees, and by extension the ‘international community’. The means employed come predominantly from the military and criminal justice systems, and are presented as legitimate efforts at re-establishing the rule of law and protecting the rights of innocent parties. There is an assumption that pirates operate outside the law and can only be understood as pursuing material ends with no heed to any notion of the common good. What distinguishes pirates from other criminals is principally their area of operation in international waters, which triggers a military response. Drawing on the idea of neutralisation strategies employed by other criminals (Matza and Sykes) we suggest that pirates work within moral economies in which their activities can presented as reactions to injustices visited upon communities. Drawing on information from Somalia and Nigeria we argue that pirates need to construct their activities as defensive responses to incursions on common goods, and the erosion of existing forms of social order. Piracy is  ‘weapon of the weak’ and more akin to the primitive rebel than the international organised crime. Where the underlying grievances in the communities that provide pirate operations with a steady flow of recruits, markets and support bases are not addressed, counter piracy measures are likely to be more intractable and exact greater collateral costs.


[1] See UN Doc. S/PV.6473

[2] See UN Doc. S/PV.6473