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Modern Maritime Piracy: Stakes and Prospects of a Transnational Organized Crime

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  1. Organized Crime and Sea Piracy
  2. Trends and Factors in Piracy
  3. International Cooperation on Sea Piracy

Piracy is not a new phenomenon. Quite the reverse, it is as old as sea navigation and especially maritime trade. As early as in the Antiquity, the Roman Empire organized military campaigns to destroy pirate ships that were starving the Empire despite the fact that piracy was considered an honorable profession. When the Roman Empire collapsed, and with it the 'pax maritima', piracy rose again and even found a niche with privateering as they could receive 'lettres de marque' to act upon a government's orders and attack its enemy ships. Privateering was very common particularly in the Conquest era and Golden Age (17th and 18th Centuries) when maritime trade dramatically increased. In 1856, the Paris Declaration on Maritime Rights made it unlawful for States to hire privateers, leaving hundreds of pirates without an affiliation. Piracy continued until the present day. Nevertheless, the issue of piracy has appeared in the last few decades as a new and increasing phenomenon to many people, including scholars. The threat of piracy alerted the international community after the tragedies of the so-called 'boat people' formed by refugees escaping Vietnam in the 1970s and 1980s and attacked by pirates. In 1983, the International Maritime Organization officially acknowledged the resurgence of piracy, leading scholars and world politicians to focus on 'modern piracy' trends and how to deal with it. There is still great controversy regarding the definition of modern piracy, mainly about its distinction from maritime terrorism. In this paper, we will focus on piracy as an organized crime, and we will apply organized crime's most accepted definition of piracy: armed robbery at sea, motivated by profit and conducted by two or more private actors.

[...] A major reason is that it disturbs the global maritime trade, which represents, as we said, nearly 80% of all freight and is thus vital for most economies. Lyman and Potter estimated at $450 million a year the direct losses from piracy. But when taking into account other indirect consequences such as the raise of insurance premiums, the delayed trips or the disruption of supplying in some industries, estimations of the costs can go as high as $16 billion a year [Luft & Korin, 2004]. [...]


[...] Although there was no efficient mechanism or organization to report attacks prior to 1980, and supposing that the numbers are inferior to the real number of attacks, there is a clear resurgence of piracy in the 1990s. Despite the creation of the IMB's PRC, pirate attacks are still under-reported because it costs shipping companies time and raised insurance premiums [Luft & Korin, 2004]. Geographically, there are undeniable hotspots. The top hotspot is Southeast Asia, and in particular, Indonesia and the Straits of Malacca, where nearly half of the reported attacks occur4. [...]


[...] Piracy is a very adaptable organized crime and the method of attacking would change from one region to another, from one target to another. C. Raymond provided a classification of pirates' modus operandi. First, she distinguished the ?harbor and anchorage attacks?, which are the most common in Southeast Asia waters. This kind of attack focuses on ships in the coastal waters, usually occurs at night, targets goods that can be stolen directly without the knowledge of the crew. The pirates would silently approach the ship in speedboats or inflatable dinghies, concentrate on robbery and avoid confrontation before disappearing into the night. [...]

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