Most of us likely already have a solid understanding of the definition of piracy on a basic level, as maritime robbery. For the purpose of our in-depth issue area investigation however, it is essential that we analyze various definitions and potential mechanisms of categorization in order to identify a consensus definition, which encompasses all of the factors we wish to consider. In order to settle upon a satisfactory definition let us consider the definition of piracy decided upon at the UN Convention on Laws of the Seas (UNCOLS), the definition posed by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and finally, a categorization scheme to identify the different types of pirate actors we see adapted from categories of maritime crime proposed by Dana R. Dillon, a senior policy analyst for Southeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation
(Note: While the writer acknowledges the existence of piracy in forms other than maritime, for example aircraft piracy, or the piracy of copyrighted works or ideas such as software and literature, this investigation focuses primarily on piracy as it relates to physical theft or assault, especially that which is seaborne. While a case may be made for the relevance of the piracy of intellectual property to human security, the piracy group decided to focus its study on piracy in the context of maritime law due to its larger contribution to the study of security in a holistic sense.)
Before launching into the task of defining piracy, let us consider why the issue at hand is a concern in the field of security. Not only does piracy pose the very obvious threats to the individual human security of those who are vulnerable to pirate attack while on the Straits of Malacca or off the coast of Somalia, it also poses great economic threats. For example, global commerce is negatively impacted by piracy due to decreased efficiency when good shipments are prevented/interrupted or when trade lanes become unusable. Piracy also has economic ramifications in relation to ransom payments as well as fees for increased ship security and including guards on vessels. Most importantly, piracy threatens the lives of both naval crews and civilians, and acts as another arena for terrorism, similar to aviation hijacking. (1)
Now, to move on to defining piracy: According to the UNCLOS definition, “Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii)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 of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft;
(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act
described in subparagraph (a) or (b). (2)
At first glace this definition, found in Article 101 of the 1982 UNCLOS, seems relatively inclusive, however, it restricts the definition of piracy to include only those acts of aggression that take place on the high seas, and outside the jurisdiction of any state. According to this definition acts that occur within a state’s territorial waters are considered armed robbery at sea, not piracy. This is clearly problematic because defining piracy in this way ignores all cases that seemingly fit the bill: illegal acts of violence against a private ship, but occurred either in ports or in territorial waters, which fall under state jurisdiction. In 2003, only 27% of the more than 450 reported pirate attacks were covered under the UNCLOS; the remaining 330 maritime attacks took place in waters under state jurisdiction and therefore, according to UNCLOS, were not piracy. (3) While this definition covers an adequate variety of actions to be considered piracy (illegal acts of violence on the high seas or on board an aircraft, act of voluntary participation in pirate ship operation, intentionally facilitating an act considered piracy, etc), when utilized in isolation, it is simply not sufficient.
The definition followed by the IMB is based largely upon that of the UNCLOS, however, expands to include attempted attacks and is not limited to ships on the high seas. The IMB characterizes piracy as:
“An act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act.” (4)
On its own this definition too, has evident flaws, namely failure to consider all relevant actors in piracy. We can come to understand these shortcomings by considering the various actors that commit the crimes of piracy. Dana R. Dillon , a senior policy analyst for Southeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation separates maritime crime into four different categories. I propose that these categories are a great way to breakdown the different actors we can consider to be pirates. Firstly, there are “real pirates” in the traditional sense… the armed men who board ships while they are at sea. These pirates are typically relatively well organized and equipped for the task at hand. They are generally economically motivated. (3) Pirates of Somalia are a prime modern example of what falls into this first category: they are oftentimes poor fishermen whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by overfishing in the area. (5) Further, there are heavily armed and oftentimes, “surprisingly well-organized, down to having their own packets of paperwork -- on letterhead -- for their victims.” (6)
Other candidates for committing crimes of piracy are dockworkers and fishermen, or those who simply have the opportunity to steal the unsecured stores of docked shipped. These “opportunistic pirates” are similarly economically motivated but have very different means from traditional pirates. (3) It is important to keep in mind that while these actors do constitute a branch of piracy, the outcomes they cause are not nearly as significant as those caused by real pirates and terrorist pirates. For this reason, they must be clearly identified as a lesser threat.
Finally, it is important to consider maritime terrorists are candidates of piracy. Their means are far more similar to traditional pirates than they are to those of opportunistic pirates albeit oftentimes less organized and less trained than the former. These “terrorist pirates” are largely motivated by political goals rather than economical. (3) An example of this type of pirates is the Sri Lankan Sea Tigers, a branch of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) terrorist organization, who, beginning in 1980, targeted Sri Lankan naval ships to destroy vessels and kill soldiers. The motivations are the LTTE are largely political and center upon the desire of the separatist militant group to create an independent state for ethnic Tamil people.
So, if neither of the definitions, nor Dillon’s categorization scheme is adequate in defining piracy on its own, what consensus can we come to that will enable us to study this issue area with focus and purpose? We must combine aspects of each component considered above in order to be thorough investigators. Thus our consensus is as follows: maritime piracy is an act of, participation in, or incitement of violence, detention or theft against a ship on the high seas, in state territorial waters, or docked in a port, committed by private actors falling into one of four categories: “real (traditional) pirates,” “opportunistic pirates,” or “terrorist pirates.”