The International Day of the Seafarer

Today, 25 June 2012 marks the second international Day of the Seafarer. This year, the IMO is asking people around the world to use the power of social networks to highlight the importance of the work of seafarersm and raise awareness of seafarers and their unique role. Everyone, regardless of where they live, can join the campaign online, in particular by commenting the Day of the Seafarer Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SeafarerDay.

“Seafarers leave their homes and families, often for long periods to ensure that essential items and commodities on which our lives depend arrive safely at our homes.” (IMO)

Seafarer often finds themselves under demanding and sometimes dangerous circumstances, particularly in pirate-prone areas. The following are some of the most significant findings from the recently released 2011 Oceans Beyond Pirates Report on the human cost of piracy in the Indian Ocean:

  • 3,863 seafarers were fired upon by Somali pirates with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades;
  • 968 seafarers came into close contact with pirates, who managed to board their vessels;
  • 413 seafarers were rescued from citadels;
  • 1,206 hostages were held captive by Somali pirates;
  • 555 seafarers were taken hostage in 2011; 645 hostages were captured in 2010 and remained captive during 2011; 6 tourists and aid workers were kidnapped on land;
  • 35 hostages died as a result of pirate captivity in 2011;
  • Average length of captivity was 8 months.

These findings are particulary concerning and demand continuing attention and engagement from all stakeholders in the maritime field. Several initiatives have been launched to support the plight of kidnapped seafarers and their families. Among those, is Save Our Seafarers which runs an on-going worldwide awareness campaign to raise the profile of Somali piracy in political and media circles, in order to see Somali piracy deterred, defeated and eradicated, and to stop seafarers being tortured and murdered.

ReCAAP and the Anti-Piracy Information-Sharing System in Asia

Furthering its current efforts to enhance international cooperation to tackle piracy, the United Kingdom recently became the 18th party to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, commonly referred to as ReCAAP.

Entered into force in September 2006, ReCAAP is the first regional agreement for the promotion and the enforcement of multilateral cooperation against piracy and armed robbery at sea in Asia. Among its original contracting parties are South and East Asian countries. Since its entry into force, ReCAAP is also open for accession by other countries. Like the U.K., other global shipping countries with an interest in Asian maritime economy, such as Norway and the Netherlands, are also parties. Pursuant to its Article 1, ReCAAP adopts the same definition of piracy set forth in UNCLOS as well as the IMO definition of armed robbery at sea. However, ReCAAP does not provide for enforcement powers beyond those already provided in UNCLOS. Many of the lessons learned from the implementation of ReCAAP were incorporated in the Djibouti Code of Conduct, which provides a framework for information sharing, training and capacity building in the Gulf of Aden.

Notably, ReCAAP established an Information Sharing Centre (ReCAAP ISC), which is now a recognized international organization, headquartered in Singapore. ReCAAP ISC’s main functions include facilitating communication and piracy-related information-sharing among the contracting parties as well as furthering capacity building with other organizations and the shipping industry to develop and improve anti-piracy measures. As part of its mandate, ReCAAP ISC produces periodic consolidated incident reports and alerts on piracy and armed robberies at sea in the Asia region. Incidents are classified under 4 different gravity levels, measuring violence and economic impact.

 Map of ReCAAP Consolidated Incident Report for January 2012

Once piracy hot-spots, the straits of Malacca and Singapore as well as the South-China Sea more recently registered a significant drop in piracy related incidents. Due to improved surveillance and security presence, reported incidents now mainly consist of armed robberies or petty thefts at ports and anchorages, particularly in Indonesia.

A Globalized System of Criminal Justice

Piracy and armed robbery incidents reported to the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre during 2011. Map courtesy of International Chamber of Commerce.

Criminal Justice for pirates has become a truly global affair, utilizing diverse state resources to funnel pirates through a limited number of regional states in East Africa back to their homeland of Somalia. More specifically, the UN’s preferred option for prosecuting Somali pirates will be national prosecutions in several East African states (Seychelles, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania) as well as in several semi-autonomous regions of Somalia (Somaliland, Puntland).  Prosecution in European states and the US would remain a backup plan. But this is only one piece of the criminal justice apparatus. Police functions in the Indian Ocean will continue to be performed by a combination of naval coalitions such as NATO and EUNAVFOR and by individual naval states with interests in commercial shipping through the high-risk piracy corridor (including the motley crew of the U.S., India, China, Iran, and others).  At the other end of the criminal justice chain is the prison system where there is currently a bottleneck.  In this regard, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime is in the process of refurbishing and building new prisons in Somaliland and Puntland to house convicted pirates.

This solution has several benefits as compared with the other solutions outlined by Jack Lang in January 2011. Prosecuting pirates in multiple regional states creates redundancies, so that if one or more courts prove incapable of continuing prosecutions, other options remain available. For example, Kenya recently stopped all of its piracy prosecutions due to a High Court decision ruling Kenyan courts did not have jurisdiction over piracy offences. Likewise, the Seychelles recently refused to accept pirates from a Danish ship because there was no guarantee that the pirates, if convicted, could be sent back to Somalia (for lack of prison space) and because the Seychelles’ limited judicial capacity. In situations such as these, other states might serve as back-up solutions so that prosecutions could be directed elsewhere.

Funneling Pirates Back to Somalia

Another advantage of this proposed solution is that it has the benefit of building local capacity. Instead of directing resources into a foreign institution, providing support to local courts and local prosecutors promises to increase the capacity of regional state institutions to address criminal justice issues beyond piracy.

The report also raises hopes that the financiers and organizers of piracy can be adequately addressed by East African states. In relation to Mauritius and Seychelles in particular, the report highlights the capacity of these states to prosecute inchoate crimes such as conspiracy, incitement and attempts to commit piracy. The UK and the Netherlands are funding a Regional Anti-Piracy Prosecutions Intelligence Co-ordination Centre (RAPPICC) in Seychelles, in part, for this purpose. This capability will be crucial in order to bring to justice those individuals who organize pirate enterprises, but never step foot on board a pirate vessel.

There will be heavy reliance on prisons in Puntland and Somaliland

However, the report and the plan are lacking in several respects.  First, the cost savings of this plan have likely been exaggerated. There is no final accounting provided in the UNSG report. But a cursory survey of the various costs associated with refurbishing courtrooms, providing expert assistance, hiring additional judges and prosecutors, conducting trainings and, especially building prisons, shows a quickly rising price tag. Combine this with additional unspecified costs that would likely accompany this proposal such as rule of law, general training, and governance projects and the costs may actually be about the same as a hybrid tribunal such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone or the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (about $40 million each annually). In any event, the proposed solution’s budget is modest compared with the sums that are currently being dumped into unsustainable solutions that fail to address the root of the problem.

In addition, the UNSG report apparently hazards some guesses as to the potential of its proposed course of action. Despite the different conditions in each country or region, the report indicates that Somaliland, Puntland, Kenya, and Mauritius will be capable of performing piracy investigations in 20 months and within two years would be able to prosecute 24 cases of 10 defendants each. These are good benchmarks to evaluate the success of these projects.  But it is hard to believe that they are realistic assessments of local conditions. The report evaluates the local capacities of each state/region indicating the number of prosecutors and judges in each. But it fails to compare these numbers of professionals to the actual populations that they must serve. Three hundred and five (305) Prosecutors in Tanzania seems to be a significant number compared to the 36 prosecutors for the whole of Somaliland. However, Tanzania’s population is 43.5 million and the population in Somaliland appears to be around 3.5 million. Therefore, the number of prosecutors per capita in Somaliland (1/10,000) is higher than in Tanzania (1/140,000). In addition, only 10 Tanzanian prosecutors would be in charge of piracy prosecutions. Likewise, the report fails to take into consideration the caseload of the respective prosecutorial groups that would be responsible for piracy prosecutions (i.e. the number of cases each attorney is responsible for, thereby dictating how much time they would have to devote to piracy cases). This suggests the projected capacities are not based upon a realistic assessment of current capacity.

More importantly, the report acknowledges that it was unable to predict with any accuracy the number of piracy cases that would likely proceed to trial. That is, how much prosecutorial and penal resources will likely be required in the next few years.  Due to the volatility of Somalia, the changing tactics of pirates and of commercial vessels responding with various self-defence measures, an accurate assessment in this regard is quite difficult. However, the report suggests that anticipating the numbers of piracy suspects likely to be apprehended at sea and transferred to regional states for prosecution was not possible because no information was available as to the reasons for the release of piracy suspects from the numerous states conducting naval anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean.  It is unclear why the UNSG was unable to obtain this information from various member states of the United Nations. But it has certainly left a conspicuous gap in the report’s findings.

Finally, the report ends without any recommendations as to how to prevent recidivism, including programs to retrain Somali prisoners and integrate them back into the community. In this regard, the proposed solution is short-sighted, enabling the relocation of pirates back to Somalia, but providing no real long-term preventative measures. The only permanent solution to piracy is a stable and economically prosperous Somalia. Hopefully, the London Conference can initiate positive reforms in this regard as it is widely accepted that the solution or piracy resides on land, and not at sea.

International Maritime Bureau 2011 Global Piracy Report: Successful Piracy Attacks Decreasing

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), the anti-maritime crimes arm of the International Chamber of Commerce, has released its 2011 Piracy Report. The Report is compiled on the basis of the incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide reported to the IMB.

Not surprisingly, pirate attacks against vessels in East and West Africa accounted for the majority of the world attacks, with Somali pirates accounting for more than 50% of these. Out of the 439 attacks reported in 2011, 275 attacks took place off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea. There are fears that pirate attacks in West Africa in 2011 were underreported.

The total number of pirate attacks fell only slightly from 445 in 2010 to 439 in 2011. Overall, in 2011 there were 176 vessels boarded, of which 45 were hijacked, and 113 were fired upon, in addition to 105 attempted attacks. While the number of Somali incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28. The last quarter of 2011 shows an even more significant drop. However, these numbers do not take into account attacks on dhows and smaller vessels which are often targeted by pirates and may also unwittingly end up serving as motherships.

These figures echo a recent positive trend already signaled by the International Maritime Organization. According to the IMB, this is mainly attributable to the presence of international naval forces in the Gulf of Aden, the enforcement of the IMB best practices (such as the use of citadels, sprinkler systems, and other active defences) and the deterrent effect of the employment of privately armed security personnel on board.

Will these positive developments continue in 2012?