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Avast! Legal Confusion May Help Pirates Avoid The Plank

Instead of stopping piracy, international laws may be abetting it.

Forget Captain Jack Sparrow. Today’s maritime pirates aren’t swashbuckling antiheroes, they are gun-toting kidnappers, extortionists and murderers. And their numbers are swelling, not diminishing. New research highlights one of the factors contributing to international piracy – the legal system.

Fifty years ago, piracy was in decline. But by 2009, the world was dealing with an average of more than one pirate attack per day. How has piracy been able to thrive in an age when national navies and shipping companies have more technology than ever (e.g., satellite imagery, high-end military equipment)?

One problem, according to NC State researchers Mark Nance and Michael Struett, is that international efforts to curtail piracy are stymied by the tangle of complex international laws that address piracy. For example, if a Freedonian naval vessel captures a pirate ship, it has lots of options on how to proceed. It could let the pirates go, prosecute them in a Freedonian court, or take the pirates to another country for prosecution. (Kenya has been discussed as a center for international piracy prosecutions, but that idea is facing problems of its own).

In other words, nations can prosecute anywhere or choose not to prosecute at all (avoiding the expense and hassle associated with the legal process). And it’s all perfectly legal, depending on which law you happen to be looking at.

So, what to do? If the international community wants to start taking anti-piracy measures seriously, Nance and Struett say it is going to have to untangle the existing set of international piracy laws and ensure that each nation knows exactly what it is expected to do to fight piracy. The researchers suggest that an international body may be best situated to handle the task – perhaps the United Nations or the International Maritime Organization. Their research was presented at the International Studies Association Annual Meeting in Montreal last week.

And, frankly, the political pressure should be there. Notorious murders garner the most international headlines, but there are billions of dollars in shipping losses at stake as well (an estimated $7-12 billion in 2010).

Hopefully, we’ll see the international community move from chasing pirates to stopping them.

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  1. More than one pirate attack every day…pretty crazy. These scalawags have no fear because of a lack of legal enforcement so makes sense that they are going to do whatever they want without fear.

  2. Being in the maritime industry, I had been talking about the major problems and lack of tackling devices in the industry more than a couple of years. Things then were just a few incidents. But now it is reaching alarming situation.

    With the modern communication systems, we now know exactly the points where pirates are attcking, their strength, their origin and many more information about them.

    I wonder why the world is just watching and waiting……..