Thursday, March 28, 2013

Piracy- A literary review

Piracy-A Literary Review

“In the immediate nearness of the gold, all else had been forgotten [...], and I could not doubt that he hoped to seize upon the treasure, find and board the Hispanola under cover of night, cut every honest throat about that island, and sail away as he had at first intended, laden with crimes and riches.”
 Robert L. Stevenson. “Treasure Island”

In contemporary world, when the word “pirate “is mentioned, images of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow instantly come to mind. Media and film industry had done all possible to present image of piracy in a quite unrealistic, romanticized sense, not trying to emphasize the seriousness and make people think what is the real story behind the black flag.
Different authors have different approaches and different feelings about piracy. Let us turn back in time, and look shortly at piracy throughout history. Authors like Angus Konstam explored this from historical point of view claiming that piracy had always been an issue- connecting that one`s desire to explore, travel and use the benefits that sea has to offer. Geographical discoveries from 14th-16th centuries changed the way piracy worked. First, it widened the area in which piracy used to be a security problem. Technology, improvement in building ships, development of international market and colonialism in pre-capitalistic era n 17th century evolved into golden age of piracy. Many authors argue that changing geopolitical picture in the world, as capitalism was about to take over changed the perception of piracy as a global issue. The Holly Alliance controlled politics in Europe and most of its colonies. In their resolutions they mention certain policies that were pursued by courts of Vienna and Berlin- great punishments for piracy and securing the trade companies, as well as intercontinental trade development. That had an impact on lowering danger coming from piracy as well as changing the way of life, and creating some different security problems.
Group of scholars from University of Novi Sad argued that piracy had never disappeared, no matter how the world we live in changed and affected creating different security threats. What has changed is policies and perception of piracy. Relationship between national versus human security is really significant in explaining maritime piracy. In the past, piracy affected kingdoms, empires, governments, trade and construction companies. Piracy was in the way of colonialism, and UK, Spain, Portugal, France and Netherlands were fighting with all their means.  It posed threat to a socio-economic system at the time.  To be a pirate – it meant stealing, crime, death, lack of humanity, but at the same time resistance, mythology and a legend. Yet, not all of the pirates wanted to be like Robin Hood and steal in the name of poor, oppressed nations. Contemporary perception of maritime is different, so are threats it poses, and what is affected by it. Colonialism doesn’t exist today, and the way the trade and international exchange of goods functions is quite different. Group of security scholars from Essex University had claimed that compared to “real” threats in today`s world WMDs, or terrorists, piracy is not the matter of global security.
But is that really a case? Acts of piracy in the modern world are significantly increasing and pose a great threat to the safety of maritime navigation, property and human lives. Right now, issue is centered on breakdown of the legal effects of piracy. International legal aspect (especially with reference to the Convention on the Law of the Sea) has the cumulative conditions that must be satisfied for the existence of treating this international crime at sea. Particularly relevant are measures of repression by the state. UN summit proposed some changes and progress in the classical notion of piracy, in order to more effectively combat this phenomenon of contemporary crime at sea. From the point of maritime law, the authors examine the basis of international conventions and domestic law with the act of piracy cases. Scholars are suggesting bigger institutional cooperation, as well as changing and strengthening implications of law in the international waters. Second option is strengthening implications of law in domestic coastline, and their cooperation with national institutions.
So, who exactly is affected by piracy? And why doesn’t more people react to threat of piracy? Picture we get from media is that everything becomes an issue when it affects USA. Or “white USA” at least. Piracy works on the principles of chokepoints- geographically and strategically convenient regions where trade with ships is still really active, and where regulations of International law don’t work as they should. Everything can be affected by piracy today- goods, oil, people. Even ordinary tourists can be potential target , because they are source of money. Maritime piracy is being treated differently by institutions and governments, and not all of them prioritize this as security issue, or not all of them can. Piracy today is definitely more matter of economical and human security, and it is more regional than global issue. Does that still mean we will not give our best to create valid policies to resolve this issue? People`s lives are still in game, and its proven that people who get captured by pirates suffer from trauma consequences long time after.
One thing is sure, with contemporary development of piracy, there is a  network of scholars and security experts and rising interest in resolving maritime piracy as security issue.

“Not just the Spanish Main, love. The entire ocean. The entire wo'ld. Wherever we want to go, we'll go. That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that's what a ship needs but what a ship is... what the Black Pearl really is...What piracy really is…. is freedom. “
Captain Jack Sparrow


“Pirate Wars” Peter Earle, Methuen – London, 1973
“Piracy- the complete history”  Angus Kostnam Osprey Publishing; First UK edition (August 19, 2008)
“International law” Rodoljub Etinski , JP “Sluzbeni glasnik” , 2010


  1. You mention that scholars don't see piracy as matter of global security and in turn refute their argument by claiming that there is an increase in acts of piracy around the world. Other than Somalia, where else are pirates conducting raids on ships or ports?

  2. Certain groups of scholars certainly do not. There is an increase in acts of piracy in some parts of the world (choke points) , thats why we approach piracy as regional security issue. Somalia is just being the most famous case. Other than that , East and North East coast of Africa, South-East Asia, Mediterran area with Bosphorus connection to Black Sea are the regions we look at as new places for rising piracy. There must be better governmental and institutional cooperation for achieving security in those regions.

  3. Has the increased cost of oil made piracy more lucrative and more common just as the increase in the output of New World Spanish gold mines made Piracy more lucrative in the 18th century?

    1. Great question.
      Increased cost of oil has more influence, but only in certain areas. As we learned, piracy exists for different reasons, in different parts of the world. It cannot be denied that cost of oil had increased piracy to certain extent. Still, it is not influential as Spanish gold mines- that was gold age of piracy.

  4. I'm not entirely sure who might be able to answer this question but I think Katie talked about the varying equipment that pirates use and from what I understood the quality the equipment varied from region to region. For example some of the Somalian pirates or pirates from south america commit act s of piracy using wooden boats but Nigerian pirates have very well equipped sturdy motor boats. This leads me to assume that there must be a more organized structure in the Nigerian pirates organization that is lacking in say Somalia or south america. Has there been anything written on current piracy structure? do groups operate more like a network or is it more hierarchical structure?

    1. Very well asked. As I said, geopolitics plays such a huge role in piracy today. Somalia is a poor country, considered to be failed state. Piracy becomes matter of choice if you want to make money. Government and institutions tollerate it, because economically and politically they are not able to deal with it. As a poor country , without resources , uses what it has, even to perform piracy acts. Nigeria is a different case- first of all, different geography position. Nigeria is poor, but cannot be compared to Somalia. West coast of Africa had more trade, and that naturally influenced piracy. Much more developed, and with piracy supported by the government, Nigerian pirates are different- they go after things they know they can certainly benefit from, not after everything they can catch- what is the case with Somalia. And network certainly exist. Certain studies are done to prove connection of maritime piracy with smuggling goods of any kind.
      Somalian pirates definitely work more as a hierarchical structure. Nigeria, South East Asia and South America are more network organized- and as that they influence economical/cultural/political structures. Consult "Contemporary maritime piracy in South East Asia" by Adam I. Young.

  5. ["Piracy was in the way of colonialism, and UK, Spain, Portugal, France and Netherlands were fighting with all their means. It posed threat to a socio-economic system at the time."] < I still think that hegemonic powers are still often the nations most at risk for piracy. Because pirates come from non-developed nations (close to where hegemonic powers are sapping their resources), its a tradeoff for not having any sense of economic uplift of stability. Maybe an alternate means to combatting piracy in nations like Somalia and Nigeria is to invest in development programs there to deter people from choosing piracy as a means of income.

    1. Good perspective. But reasons why piracy exist today are more complex. For certain countries it is way of developing economical resources , because colonization and decolonization left them without any resources. There are many solutions. Investing and strengthening the government, helping economy and educating people, create them life choice other than piracy, and certain improvement can be achieved. Also, work needs to be done in the terms of implication of rules of international law, and strengthening the domestic law. Piracy is a problem, but within certain framework of time, right advocacy and policies, it can become less security issue.

  6. To your knowlage how much is piracy a product of clandestine markets and how much is it a causitive factor and what kind of reaserch if any has been done on that issue?

  7. You talk a lot about how piracy has changed over time. Harkening back to the previous weeks of mercenaries and militias, have you noticed an increase in the use of mercenaries either as pirates or to combat pirates? If so, who are hiring them, and are they effective either as pirates or as deterrents?


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