Department of Research and International Studies
Written by: Rabab Haddada
Reviewer: Dr. Badra Gaaloul
Translated by Wiem Sayari
Sea routes are the main routes for international trade. Maritime trade exchanges represent 90 percent of global exchanges. Nearly 12 thousand million tons of goods are transported annually through 50,000 merchant ships and 40 percent of which are oil tankers.
Companies and countries prefer maritime transport for several reasons, including the low cost compared to other means of transport especially air transport ,the ease of loading and unloading goods, in addition to the existence of a legal framework covering the various details of maritime trade at the local and international levels .
This important sea routes funds has historically coexisted with a dangerous phenomenon, which is maritime piracy, as merchant ships suffer from armed robbery and crews kidnapping.
Maritime piracy is defined in the dictionary of international law as “illegal acts of violence or robbery, committed by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft, working for private purposes, against a ship or aircraft, persons or property, on the high seas or in any other area that is not under the control of the judicial authority of any country.”
Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states:
Any of the following acts are considered an act of piracy:
a) Any unlawful act of violence, detention, or any act of depredation committed for private purposes by the crew or passengers of a private ship or private aircraft, and directed at:
1- on the high seas, against another ship, aircraft, persons or property on the board of a ship or aircraft.
2 – against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State.
b) Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or aircraft, knowing that the act of operating the ship or the aircraft has the character of piracy.
c) Any act that incites or intentionally facilitates the commission of any of the acts described in one of subparagraphs (a) or (b).
Piracy is widespread in the international trade entrances that have strategic importance, which makes the damages resulting from it very heavy. According to the World Bank report for the year 2013, before the start of the international campaigns to fight piracy in the region, its funds amounted to 18 billion annually in Somalia. According to the same report, the ransom amounts paid to free the hostages were estimated at 53 million dollars annually since 2005.
Piracy has historically fluctuated and witnessed periods of growth and periods of weakness and reached its peak from 1680 to 1726. That period was known as the golden age of pirates, after which this phenomenon was fought and weakened.
In the contemporary period, the world started paying attention to the nightmare of maritime piracy and began to ask many questions
Will the 21st century be the second golden age of piracy?
What are the most important areas of piracy in each continent?
What is behind the sudden growth of this phenomenon? What are the strategies and mechanisms that have been designed to face it?
The most important sea crossings
Gulf of Guinea
The geographical definitions of the Gulf differ, as we find:
• A wide geographical definition of the Gulf from Senegal to Angola, including: Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire , Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola
• We find a narrow geographic definition of the region from Côte d’Ivoire to Angola, which includes: Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Its coastal strip .according to this determination is 4000 km.
In this study, we will adopt the expanded geographical definition of the region, since the phenomenon of piracy is not present near the territorial waters of countries, but in open marine areas known as high seas. It is not confined to a narrow area, but rather moves in extended areas for fear of security control operations.
The Gulf covers a marine area estimated at 6 million km2, and it is a vast area in which the countries of two economic groups intersect. The first is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the second is the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS).
Had it not been for the weakness of integration and cooperation at the African level, this region, according to economists, would have been the most important commercial region in the world.
Despite this weakness, it has a vital importance, since it exports 30 percent of America’s imports and 40 percent of European Union imports. The exports vary between food and energy.
The countries of this coastline are known by the importance of their natural resources, either for the countries located on the fertile lands of the African forests or the countries connected to the coastline.
These countries are among the oil giants. Nigeria is the richest African country with an annual income estimated of $397.27 billion in 2020.
Cameroon, the cave of the African Ali Baba, has a territory that contains more than 52 types of minerals scattered throughout the region. 200 million tons of bauxite is available in the “Nagawondal” region only, as well as 5 million tons of aluminum in the “Bambotos” region. Tons of other minerals including gold, iron and sapphire are also available there, knowing that the exploration areas are only half of the Cameroonian region.
Politics and security:
The Gulf of Guinea is the most extended waterfront in Africa and is open to the American continent. The geographical proximity of the United States of America to the gulf explains the Russian incursion into the Central African region, as well as the importance of West Africa in the strategies of the United States of America.
It seeks to control it and prevent any hostile alliance from taking place there for the sake of maintaining its security.
American bases are found on the entire Gulf in Dakar (Senegal), Libreville (Gabon), Accra (Ghana) and Ascension Island (an island under British control located in the heart of the Gulf).
Bay of money and death:
The Gulf of Aden and the coast of Somalia were the most dangerous maritime point in the world due to the massive movement of pirates. However, the damage caused by it, as previously mentioned, push international efforts to succeed in fighting it.
The last report of the International Maritime Bureau for the year 2020 confirmed that since 2019 no announcement has been made concerning piracy in the Gulf.
The pressure on pirates in the Gulf of Aden region and the coast of Somalia made them withdraw to more open areas and less secure presence like the Gulf of Guinea, which topped global statistics, as the number of armed robbery attacks amounted to 195 in 2020.
Kidnappings amounted to 130 operations. Attacks carried out in the Gulf of Guinea, represents 95 percent of global maritime attacks in 2020.
Since 2019, attacks increased by 20 percent because of the economic distress caused by the spread of corona virus.
The percentage of damage varies according to countries.
Greece is the most affected one by 45 ships, followed by Singapore with 30 ships, Germany with 18 ships, Hong Kong with 13 ships and finally Denmark and the United Arab Emirates with 9 ships.
• Geostrategic importance
The strait is located between Malaysia and Indonesia, passing through Singapore. The 1977 agreement allowed these three countries to manage the bay. It connects Europe and the Middle East with Asia and opens to the south of China Sea, linking the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
The strait extends over a length of 1080 km, its width to the northwest is estimated to be 370 km, and to the southeast is 37 km. Its depth varies between 25 and 113 meters.
About 40,000 ships annually cross the strait. Goods transiting through the strait represent between 15 and 20 percent of world trade and 30 percent of global oil tonnage.
The strait represents a life line for Asian countries. It is called “Asia’s throat” as it represents a necessary transit point for supplying Asian countries with energy as well as linking them with the rest of the world.
For example, 95 percent of Indian foreign trade and 80 percent of its oil imports pass through the strait of Juba. 80 percent of Japan oil imports and 50 percent of its exports pass through the strait, the same for China, which mainly depends on this sea crossing.
Political and military:
The Strait of Malacca is strategically one of the most important trade entry points in the world, as it links China and Southeast Asia with the world, especially Europe and the Middle East, and its importance has increased since the construction of the Suez Canal.
Historically, it has been dominated by all the world powers: the Portuguese, the British and now the United States of America. The latter seeks to control the strait depending on its political influence, since it is an important space of its first opponent, China.
The United States of America is trying to politically influence the trio that controls the strait (Malaysia-Indonesia-Singapore) or the countries bordering it such as Taiwan and the Philippines. Therefore, opening and closing the strait will be a card of political pressure on Asia in general.
The American control of the strait serves it to protect its allies which use the strait to supply especially raw materials. The most important of these allies are Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. In return, it seeks to weaken its opponents, the most important of whom are China and North Korea.
For China, the strait comes at the top of its strategic priorities. It is the main crossing of the Silk Road, the artery of the Chinese economy. The American geographical proximity to the strait threatens Chinese security, especially after the American incursion into its area of influence. China opened Maritime military bases in the islands of the South China Sea to secure its territory and trade.
Pirates located at the entrances to the Strait of Malacca:
According to the report of the International Maritime Bureau, attacks in the vicinity of the Strait increased between 2019 and 2020. Singapore waters witnessed 23 attacks in 2020.
It is an increase of 50 percent compared to 2019, while Indonesia witnessed 26 attacks, which is almost the same number as in 2019.
The phenomenon of piracy in the vicinity of the strait is different from others, because pirates target ships anchored in the internal waters of the countries of the strait, and they are usually active away from narrow areas.
However, the openness of the strait to the high seas allows pirates to move in different ports.
In 2019, China raised its maritime security to the third degree. It happens in the most dangerous cases as a result of the escalation of attacks on its ships. Its sense of threat is a result of what it called armed groups activities. It is evidence that this phenomenon has become a threat to the largest economies in the world.
Here we mean the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They represent the marine area that separates the North and South of the American continent. The Gulf of Mexico is characterized by significant oil reserves and represents 17 percent of the United States’ production outside its territory as well as 5 percent of natural gas.
45 percent of the American oil refining operations take place along the Gulf of Mexico strip, in addition to 51 percent of natural gas processing operations.
As for the Caribbean Sea, it is known for global tourism mobility and attracts recreational cruise ships and cruise boats, providing high economic incomes.
According to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), incomes reached $3.36 billion in 2018, before being affected by the Corona pandemic.
• Characteristics of piracy in this Gulf:
Since 2019, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea have been ranked among the three most dangerous maritime points in the world after the Gulf of Guinea and the Strait of Malacca .
When piracy decreased in Somalia; it became the most dangerous point of piracy in the last decade.
Pirates in this area target cruise ships or oil tankers. The various countries bordering this maritime area witnessed varying attacks, amounting to 135 attacks in 2019.
But the most vulnerable pirate attacks are the ones that targeted the recreational boats entering or leaving the Caribbean islands. San Vinson and the Grenadines faced 18 attacks, while Grenadian islands faced 28 attacks and Panama 12 attacks. In addition to various attacks close to the territorial waters of Colombia, Venezuela and Peru.
As for the Gulf of Mexico, most of the piracy operations took place on the entire Puerto dos Bocas strip, as well as “The Cudad de l’armen “ , which includes most of the oil platforms in the Gulf.
The modern crime of piracy: The hidden truth
Features of modern hacking:
Since the beginning of the new century piracy has become more harmful and no longer burdens the local merchants or sailors, but it is capable of causing damage to the global economic system. The huge losses in Somalia are evidence as well as the current ones in the Gulf of Guinea.
International financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund have published information on the depth of the damage.
The growth of this criminal phenomenon came as a result of the development of means used by pirates, including sailing technologies, advanced ships and weapons. It helps them to navigate deep areas of the high seas. Facing them becomes more difficult and increases the volume of spoils, which are no longer theft of money or kidnapping of crews, but rather of oil tankers.
What is the secret behind these new professional hackers? And where does all that money go?
Piracy: a new form of investment:
The piracy operations become a kind of investment because of its huge returns. A joint study of the World Bank, the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, as well as the marine bureau of The International Criminal Police Organization confirmed the close relationship between pirates and investors or financiers. This study took a model of confessions of the arreste.piracy operations in Somalia and what it reached through tracking some bank accounts, as well as the certificates and
According to the report, the danger of the operation varies according to the type of funding. The operations financed by families or members of a tribe are usually simple operations in which the proceeds are shared between the group of
financers and those who carry out the piracy operation.
Another type of operations is called “dangerous operations or” The participatory operations”. The operation involves Group of financers who invests in a large and organized operation, in the form of shares. The proceeds are divided according to the percentage of each person’s investment, which is the most prevalent form.
Finally, we find individual operations in which the financier has a percentage of 50 to 75 percent of the profits. These operations are usually under the control of one financer who runs the operation by land and sea and controls the armed groups of pirates.
Investors do not have significant funds in the country in which they operate, so they need a process to enter the investment funds in a legitimate way. This process is known as reverse money laundering.
It occurs when the financer pirate plays the role of a commercial intermediary by carrying out a commercial operation for the benefit of a legitimate businessman. So money enters the country in a legitimate way to the territory of the operation without the authorities’ awareness.
Piracy and organized crime:
Outside the field of the operation, there are people involved in financing these groups and providing them with the necessary logistic equipments. But in the field, pirates cannot accomplish their plan individually. In every armed robbery or kidnapping, we find a whole network of intruders.
First we find informants, a group of individuals who identify targets and gather information before and after the operation and are in contact with the hackers to direct them.
As well as the mediators, who are specialized in the exchange of hostages and the transfer of money to pirates. They also have huge materials, including the use of helicopters to reach the pirates.
The last category is the negotiators. This category supervises the negotiation between the authorities or companies that have lost their crews and the pirates to obtain important percentages of money.
The number of intruders makes it more difficult to track those involved, as different paths between piracy, mediation and negotiation overlap in the operations.
After all, the pirates only get a very small percentage of the money, estimated by the international police at 10 thousand dollars out of two million dollars, which mean that what is seen of this dangerous phenomenon is only the tip of the iceberg.
Piracy and money laundering:
The proceeds of piracy are invested in countries that offer significant financial facilities to Somali businessmen such as the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti, and the United States of America. Funds are transferred to foreign companies outside Somalia. Due to the lack of strictness in financial transactions, it becomes possible to take out piracy funds outside the country in which the transaction took place through a foreign bank intermediary within the framework of a commercial exchange.
The only mission of some fake companies and local brokerage offices is allowing money laundering or smuggling outside the country.
The second way that allows pirates to invest money is having a relative outside the country that opens a bank account in the name of the pirate and invests in legal commercial companies outside the country. Sometimes this process may be discovered if the amount of money is huge or the money is reversed through the transfer of funds from a broker to another in the original funds ‘country.
Maritime companies have become aware of the danger of marine mafias and experienced trade disruption and crew threatening. For that reason they resorted to private maritime security companies.
International companies started hiring private guards to secure their ships from dangerous sea points, and this cost them less than the losses caused by piracy.
Some companies pay monthly or annual money to maritime piracy networks in exchange for not attacking their ships and protecting them from other armed groups.
What have countries done to stop this dangerous and growing phenomenon?
Security strategies to fight hacking:
The Montego Bay Convention of 1892 is the first legal framework for piracy systems. After that, the legal means and measures to fight piracy grew. The most dangerous of them were those in Somalia, where all economic powers joined forces to eliminate it. In Resolution 1816 of 2008, the Security Council allowed countries to carry out security campaigns in the territorial waters of Somalia. Russia, China and NATO responded to this decision.
But in the rest of the world, especially the Gulf of Guinea and the Nigerian delta, we do not see any serious acts facing this dilemma, even though 95 percent of the attacks in 2020 were in this region.
We find only initiatives that are not strategic enough to fight dangerous networks. Nigeria, the first affected by piracy in its region, has intensified its efforts by adopting the “Deep Blue” campaign, which cost 195 million dollars. Speed boats, helicopters and drones were harnessed to monitor piracy movements and rapid intervention. However, its efforts remain insufficient, especially in view of the extension of the Gulf and its openness to the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2018, the Security Council issued Resolutions 2018 and Resolution 2039 between the years 2011-2012, urging the international community to support the efforts of countries affected by piracy, but it remained a superficial resolution that did not reflect a real desire to be applied.
A joint strategy was made by the United Nations Regional Office in Central Africa, the Economic Organization of West African States and the Economic Organization for Central Africa, as well as the Gulf of Guinea Authority in order to make a plan to fight piracy in the region. It ended with the formation of a joint summit of countries held in June 2013 In Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon. The Regional Center for Maritime Security Cooperation was inaugurated in the Gulf of Guinea, and its first summit was held on September 11, 2014.
However, they are all theoretical strategies that do not reflect a real political will to tackle piracy.
The European Union is one of the most important victims of maritime piracy in Africa, but it has not made a serious contribution to face it. The 2015-2020 programs that were adopted to support regional and local efforts to fight piracy in West Africa did not bring any results. The number of attacks increased in 2020.
Even the operation called “Initiative européenne d’intervention”, based on the formation of joint maritime patrols to confront pirates, did not receive sufficient European support and it cannot have an effective security role.
Greece is the most European country that has made important efforts in fighting piracy, since it is constantly affected by this crime, and it topped the list of countries affected by piracy in 2020 in West Africa. Its frigates “Hydra” and “Psara” have played an important role in joint security operations since 2010.
It is necessary to draw effective and serious strategies that take into account the new forms of piracy and the professionalism of those in charge of the operations.
Security visions should be comprehensive and take into consideration the extension of networks and other direct and indirect intervening parties from financers, mediators and negotiators.
In this context, the Director of Maritime Standards at “Maersk” and the owner of the largest maritime transport fleets in the world, says, “Danger has reached a level that requires the deployment of effective military capabilities to confront it.”
International, regional or national authorities should carry out their tasks sufficiently .It may help maritime commercial companies to not resort to succumbing to pirates by concluding agreements to protect themselves by paying taxes. These acts support maritime criminal activities and violate the states’ sovereignty on their maritime territories.
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