Oil Tanker Pirated Off Ghana Coast

On June 7th, reports surfaced that a Liberian tanker had gone missing off the coast of Ghana.  The captain had apparently made a distress call reporting that the vessel was being attacked by pirates.  As of today, the ship remains missing; unfortunately, is it likely that it has been pirated and we can only speculate as to the kinds of demands that pirates will make regarding the ship and its crewmembers.

Although piracy has been on the decline off the coast of Somalia, in 2013 the number of piracy attacks rose by one-third off the coast of West Africa, thereby driving up insurance rates and threatening the safety of maritime routes in this region.  The root cause of West African piracy seems to be the uprising in the Nigerian oil-rich Niger Delta, where criminal networks and gangs have blossomed.  West African pirates typically hijack larger ships carrying precious cargo, such as oil.  Attacks have taken place in Nigeria, but also off the coasts of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, undermining the development of West Africa as an oil and gas hub by destabilizing deliveries.  West African pirates seem particularly daring.  In an earlier attack, in January 2014, they attacked a vessel off the coast of Angola and sailed it all the way up to Nigeria.

As I have reported earlier on this blog, the development of West African piracy is a serious concern, as it threatens to destabilize the region and thwart economic development.  Unfortunately, it is questionable whether lessons learning from the global combat against Somali piracy will be of any value, as the two piracy models differ on many levels.  The rise of West African piracy underscores the need for the international community to continue its anti-piracy efforts, despite a decline in Somali piracy attacks.

UNOSAT Global Report on Maritime Piracy – a Geospatial Analysis

As part of its UNOSAT programme, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research recently launched a global report on the geospatial analysis of piracy activities. UNOSAT uses satellite derived geoinformation in critical areas such as humanitarian relief, human security, strategic territorial and development planning.

The global report, building primarily on data maintained by the International Maritime Organization, explores how trends in geospatial patterns and severity of reported piracy incidents are developing from 1995 to 2013.

Maritime Circulation and Piracy 2006-2013

Courtesy UNOSAT Global Report on Maritime Piracy

Not surprisingly, two areas were observed because of the significant trends in piracy activities: the Western Indian Ocean, including the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea. In the Indian Ocean, including the Malacca Strait, and in South America, no major trends were observed. Piracy in the Malacca Strait, however, continues to be a major disruptor for safe routes in the eastern Indian Ocean.

As for the Western Indian Ocean, the following observations are made:

  • There has been a significant reduction in the number of pirate attacks during 2013 – to the extent one can claim they have almost stopped (28 incidents in 2013, of which only 8 since 15th August). Not a single vessel was hijacked;

  • The median distance from where an attack is reported to the nearest coast has dropped from close to 400 km in 2010 to under 50 km in 2013, thus indicating a considerable reduction in the radius of successful pirate activities;

  • Incidents involving the use of rocket propelled grenades, relatively heavy armour for pirates, has decreased from 43 in 2011 to 3 in 2013;

  • Ransom amounts paid to pirates have decreased from US$150M in 2011 to about US$60M in 2012;

  • In addition to the well-known feature of piracy “mother ships” from which fast-going skiffs can radiate, a new trend of floating armoury vessels supplying anti-piracy entities with weapons out in international waters is observed.

The Gulf of Guinea differs from the western Indian Ocean, although the overall number of attacks carried out is of a smaller scale:

  • The number of attacks show no sign of decreasing;

  • Attacks in the high seas have increased, while attacks in ports are on the decrease;

  • The types of attacks have gone from low-intensity towards more violent acts;

  • The Financial losses to the national economies for countries with ports in the Gulf of Guinea are considerable. This has forced certain countries to take military action that has proven successful.

The findings confirm the already well-known trends in modern day piracy in these areas.

Several organisations collect and analyse data relevant to piracy. While there have been major improvements in information-sharing, this is yet another area in the fight against piracy which suffered from fragmentation of approaches and consequently from dispersion of resources. The report thus provide for a number of recommendations for standardisation and possible better coordination.

Notably, the report advocates for the creation of a “severity index” to better differentiate the gravity in the use of violence during reported incidents in future data collection and analysis. The report indeed remarks how for close to half of reported piracy incidents no threat of violence has been reported. A similar index is used by the ReCAAP in monitoring piracy incidents in South East Asia.

The report also highlights how the distance from the coasts from which the pirate carry out their attacks is correlated to the pirates’ technical and operational capabilities and could thus function as an early predictor of an escalation in the attacks.

New Captain(s) of the Ship

CHO_circle_300dpiJanuary marks the third anniversary of Communis Hostis Omnium. This blog originated with an idea to examine the legal issues arising from the growth of maritime piracy, in particular off the coast of Somalia that had reached its peak in 2010. It has been a labor of love for both Matteo and I, representing many nights and weekends of work. And its growth has been not inconsiderable from a modest blog with a readership of one into an important source of legal analysis in a field that continues to harbor lacunae and unresolved political issues. Unfortunately, our other professional responsibilities have not permitted us to maintain the consistent and thorough analysis that we would have liked and it appears time to move on.

Fortuitously, two highly qualified lawyers have stepped forward and agreed to take the helm. From 1 January 2014, Milena Sterio and Michael Scharf will be the new Editors-in-Chief of Communis Hostis Omnium. They bring to this project a strong knowledge of the law of piracy and practical experience in the field. Milena is a Professor at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.  She has published widely on international law topics, including piracy. Michael is the Acting Dean of Case Western University Law School and is a recognized expert in international criminal law. Both Milena and Michael have participated in UN Contact Group on Piracy meetings and have assisted in fact-finding missions in Seychelles. Our hope is that they will be able to continue to grow this site’s readership and depth of coverage. We welcome them both aboard!

Matteo and I will continue to post on Communis Hostis Omnium as contributing authors periodically and when time allows. But for the moment, we sign off and wish Milena and Michael the best of luck on this new endeavor!

Specialized Chambers to Prosecute Kingpins – Long promised

The Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre whose objective is to  create sustainable regional capability and capability to undermine the piracy business model by bringing pirate leaders, financiers and enablers to justice

The Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution and Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) in Seychelles, the objective of which is to undermine the piracy business model by bringing pirate leaders, financiers and enablers to justice

As we have reported here, here, and here, the UN Security Council has long expressed its interest in the creation of specialized chambers to prosecute pirates in the East African region. On 18 November 2013, the UN Security Council again raised the prospect of creating such chambers (Resolution 2125), following the UN Secretary General’s report on piracy off the coast of Somalia of 21 October 2013 (UNSG Report), which Matteo analysed here. This comes on the heels of a donor conference at which substantial funds were pledged to assist Somalia. It also comes as the failure to prosecute pirate kingpins has become increasingly conspicuous.

Background

In October 2011, the UN Security Council decided in Resolution 2015: “to continue its consideration, as a matter of urgency, without prejudice to any further steps to ensure that pirates are held accountable, of the establishment of specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other States in the region with substantial international participation and/or support,” and requested the UN Secretary General to report on the modalities for the creation of such specialized chambers. The UNSG provided his report in January 2012 indicating the costs and estimated capacity of creating specialized chambers in several regional states and regions of Somalia, including Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Mauritius, Puntland and Somaliland. Since that time, prosecutions have indeed continued in each of these countries, with some (mainly Kenya and Seychelles) bearing the burden. However, no specialized chambers have been created to date.

Backlog of Cases

The UNSG Report notes that 53 suspects are currently on remand for trial as pirates in Mauritius, Kenya and Seychelles. This is despite the significant contribution of the international community into prosecution and incarceration of pirates in the regular court systems of states such as Kenya, Mauritius and Seychelles, the most prominent being UNODC’s counter-piracy programme valued at $60 million. Resolution 2125 laments that “the continuing limited capacity and domestic legislation to facilitate the custody and prosecution of suspected pirates after their capture has hindered more robust international action against the pirates.” This translates to a backlog of cases in the judiciaries relied upon by the international community to prosecute such cases. As compared with regular criminal courts in these countries which suffer from significant backlogs, it is hoped that specialized piracy chambers with particularized knowledge of piracy cases would permit more efficient prosecutions.

Reduction but threat of resurgence

Apart from the persistent backlog of cases for past pirate attacks, the UNSG and UNSC indicate that the conditions are ripe for attacks to surge once again. While acknowledging the significant reduction of pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, Resolution 2125 warns that this situation is reversible. More specifically, the UNSG concludes that “the situation with regard to the rule of law, security, development and governance in Somalia that has allowed piracy to arise has not changed sufficiently so as to deter criminals from attacking ships and holding seafarers hostage for ransom. Pirate attacks may increase if the international naval presence is reduced or if commercial vessels relax their self-protection measures.” He further estimates that due to the proceeds already collected from prior ransoms, pirates retain the capacity to attack vessels.  Finally, he indicates that “several pirate financiers are engaging in other criminal activities as well and that they have built significant paramilitary capacities on land, and thus have the potential to destabilize the region.” In short, the UNSG appears to call for continued action on piracy until pirate criminal enterprises have been dismantled. This would keep the international community busy for the foreseeable future.

Kingpins the focus

Resolution 2125 and the UNSG report discuss all pirate perpetrators, but the clear focus of both is on pirate kingpins, the failure to prosecute such high-level perpetrators, and the dangers this creates for the broader goal of stabilizing Somalia. The UNSG notes that “neither the Government of Somalia nor the Puntland administration nor any other local authority had seriously investigated and prosecuted any senior pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators or facilitators, and that the leadership of the principal piracy networks and their associates continued to enjoy impunity and had not been hindered in their ability to travel or transfer funds.” Resolution 2125 emphasizes that if specialized piracy courts are created, they must have jurisdiction over “anyone who incites or intentionally facilitates piracy operations, including key figures of criminal networks involved in piracy who plan, organize, facilitate, or illicitly finance or profit from such attack.” The focus is clear.

As we noted here, the identities of pirate kingpins are well-known. The difficulty has been tracing proceeds, obtaining evidence, and bringing that evidence to court (and likely gaining custody of the Accused). There have been efforts to foster international cooperation to prosecute pirates. Notably, the Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecution & Intelligence Coordination Centre (RAPPICC) in Seychelles promises to “bring together experts from around the world to share intelligence and information which will help to tackle the king-pins and financiers of piracy.” Yet, despite the significant international resources brought to bear on anti-piracy operations, including the deployment of navies and international assistance for local prosecutions, pirate kingpins have not been brought to justice.

Indeed the creation of such chambers could have little purpose, but for the prosecution of pirate kingpins considering (1) there are few new arrests of pirates as reported attacks are insubstantial and (2) it is completely unfeasible to prosecute low level offenders who have been caught and released since the evidence against them is destroyed as a matter of course (see Matteo’s post here). Perhaps the rationale behind supporting the specialized piracy chambers is that a complex prosecution of a pirate financier and pirate leader will be more feasible in a court with particularized knowledge and resources devoted to such trials.

Conclusion

To date, there appears to be a split in the UNSC on the issue of specialized piracy chambers, with some enthusiastically supporting the idea and others permitting its exploration but little else. In Resolution 2125, the UNSC notes with appreciation the substantial pledges of support at a recent donor conference for Somalia and reiterates its decision to continue to consider the establishment of “specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other States in the region with substantial international participation and/or support.” Perhaps because donors have been forthcoming, the UNSC has chosen to re-launch the 2011 idea of specialized chambers. The UNSC also requests states including Somalia and other states in the region to report back on on their efforts to establish jurisdiction and cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of piracy.” Since specialized piracy chambers have been discussed for over two years with only a feasibility study to show for it, whether such chambers will come to fruition is uncertain. Particularly as pirate attacks are at a low ebb, donors may be reluctant to shell out cash for such a focused activity especially outside of Somalia (such as in Kenya and Seychelles) when Somalia is in dire need of funds in all sectors of its government.

Negotiator Not a Pirate, Hung-jury on Hostage Taking Charges

Ali Mohamed Ali

Ali Mohamed Ali

There have been further developments in the case of Ali Mohamed Ali which we have followed here, here, and here. Two weeks ago a jury acquitted Ali of the piracy charges. Of course, juries aren’t compelled to give the reasons for their decisions, but the competing narratives indicate that the crucial issue was one of mens rea, whether Ali intended to personally profit from the negotiation or whether he instead was attempting to help free the captives. The jury was having trouble reaching a verdict on the separate hostage-taking charges and has now indicated that it could not reach unanimity, thereby rendering a mistrial. The prosecution will likely indicate next week whether it intends to retry the latter charges. But double jeopardy prevents a retrial on the piracy charges.

As an aside, an interesting point of law developed prior to the jury verdict regarding the legal requirement that piracy be perpetrated on the high seas. In this decision, the US district court found, based on the continuing offence doctrine, that “so long as the illegal acts of violence, detention, or depredation for private ends continue, the offense of piracy continues even after the perpetrators leave the high seas.” There will be no appeal of this decision since Ali was acquitted of the piracy charge.