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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Piracy Definitions

In a comment to my recent post on the latest RAND report on piracy, Mr. Noel Choong, director of the International Maritime Bureau's anti-piracy office in Kuala Lumpur, took the time to leave a comment, which he also forwarded by email. His note and my reply are set out below:

From Mr. Choong:
Dear Sir,

I hope everyone is aware that when a pirate/robber/criminal comes onboard a ship to rob her, it does not matter the value of the item that was stolen, in does not matter whether it is beside a wharf, at anchor, at 10 nautical miles ,100 nauticals etc, in the process of the theft/incident crew may be killed or injured. Many cases including petty thefts or even when nothing was reported stolen, but ship crews were injured or missing likely thrown overboard. It is like a robber/criminal coming into your home but did not steal anything valuable - however your loved ones in your home may be killed or injured in the process of this theft. Therefore, we treat all attacks as serious no matter how petty it may be. Crew safety / lives are our utmost concern.

The pirates/robbers/criminals attacking ships are coming from shore. Therefore, with all these reported incidents (at berth / anchor/ sea), we are able to pressure governments and Authorities to take appropriate action to stop this menace. All reports are sent to respective governments for their onward actions. We have so far saved many lives and recover properties and with our pressure, governments/Authorities have beefed up patrols and taken appropriate actions and be more committed in dealing with this problem.

Thank you.
My reply:
Dear Mr. Choong:

I certainly appreciate you taking the time to visit my blog, leave a comment and send an email.

I am also very appreciative the work you at the IMB are doing- which has, in fact, made a difference in crew safety and kept awareness of piracy alive.


We differ only slightly in our focus, not in our concerns.

My writing generally is concerned with international sea lines of communication and threats to international trade - which currently are less impacted by activities in specific ports and anchorages than by sea robbers and pirates roaming farther at sea.

Unless in port/anchorage matters begin to pose threats to those sea lanes, I am inclined to view relatively minor incidents as issues of insufficient ship manning and poor police coverage- similar to other criminal matters, internal to the nations of the world.

As such, I am more inclined to use the UNCLOS definition of piracy than the IMB definition (although I also dip into littoral waters when piracy activities occurring in those waters impinge on vital sea lanes such as the Strait of Malacca).


On the other hand, I can appreciate the fact that your commendable concern for the safety of ship crews leads you to adopt a broader definition. Much of my criticism of this definition comes from my view that too many authors writing about modern piracy adopt the IMB numbers without providing an explanation of what those numbers include - mixing "high seas" piracy with "in port" piracy in presenting reports of either increases or decreases in piracy. It seems to me that this inflates numbers and tends to mask the growth of piracy in critical chokepoints or passages.


I recognize that there is not much the IMB can do about how your statistics are used, but I do feel compelled in my blog to note the difference in the UNCLOS "high seas" and IMB approaches.


As far as the benefits of the IMB, I am absolutely convinced that your program has saved mariner lives and helped to convince some countries to implement better littoral, port and anchorage security and to cooperate in regional associations to suppress piracy.


If you have taken a look at my blog, you should be aware that I am a frequent visitor to the ICC CCS Weekly Piracy Report website and have, over the years, posted highlights from that site almost weekly. Your maps of piracy incidents are a terrific resource.


I hope you will accept my criticism as being from one on the same anti-piracy side as the IMB. Please do not hesitate to write me at any time if you feel I have missed something, misinterpreted the IMB policy or simply have it all wrong.


With highest regards,
Eagle1

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