Analysis: Modern piracy tactics and challenges


Maritime piracy is a growing dilemma, especially in the waters around Somalia and Nigeria. As security efforts to counter this threat improve, pirates consequently adjust their strategies and tactics to evade capture and punishment, OCEANUSLive reports.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that 389 attacks so far in 2011, of which 39 are hijackings; the highest number seen to date. In 2010, they reported 196. These numbers are a clear warning of a growing global security predicament and unmistakably indicate that more drastic security measures must be established if there is any hope of eliminating the piracy conundrum. Subsequently, the world must be prepared to retaliate against piracy with its full capacity. In order to formulate a response strategy, one must first analyze various tactics modern pirates have adopted, as well as the motives provoking such action.

Maritime pirates of the past were able to successfully execute a mission by means of simple armed robbery. When this technique became more prominent and recognizable, ships consequently became more aware of the piracy danger and likewise armed themselves with the necessary weapons for self-defence. In the modern era, success via mere armed robbery is unlikely; in light of the upsurge in piracy, crew members are increasingly on the alert for potential threats, and the increased presence of naval forces acts as a piracy deterrent.

For this reason, pirates must now organize more covert and aggressive operations, such as hijacking. This is the case of a piracy incident that occurred the evening of October 8, 2011 off the coast of Nigeria, 90 nautical miles from Lagos. Pirates boarded and hijacked an oil tanker and remained on board, trapping crew members with them. This strategy placed an enormous amount of power in the hands of the pirates. They could maintain control of the tanker in order to freely transport the oil to a desired location, use the hostage crew members to gain ransom money, or simply steal the oil and other valuables on board. The oil market was clearly a motivation in this incident, suggesting pirates are less interested in direct personal gain by stealing money or valuables, but are perhaps more attracted in materials that hold power in a larger market. This attack in October was successful because in such situations, the presence of hostages on board, as well as oil, encourages rescuers to err on the side of caution and move slowly in the attempt to liberate the ship and crew, or otherwise cooperate with pirate demands.

This case illustrates another development in modern tactics: a preference for hostages and kidnapping. Recently in Kenya, which neighbors Somalia, two female tourists, French and British, were kidnapped from resort areas that had no previous record of pirating incidents. Perhaps because the presence of naval defense and armed guards on ships has increased, pirates feel it would be too difficult to launch an attack or kidnapping attempt on more traditional targets. Kidnapping in unexpected regions could certainly prove lucrative; the lack of defense, especially in the case of unsuspecting targets, makes the odds of success quite high, with minimal effort needed to combat resistance. By kidnapping wealthy tourists, pirates also target a portion of the population that is able to pay extremely high ransoms, which could reach millions of dollars. Once again, modern pirates appear less intent on obtaining small valuables by stealing them from their victims, a tactic of the past. Instead, they seek to use their targets as a mechanism to maximize profit, as in the case of ransom. Because kidnapping in ‘safe’ tourist regions is fairly novel, and also because pirates possess the element of surprise in such kidnappings, it is difficult to develop a rapid security strategy in order to prevent future occurrences.

Another tactical trend to which modern pirates appear partial is the use of mother ships and working from land. By launching their operations from shore and utilizing mother ships, pirates can obscure their origins and targets, and also evade naval watchdog detection. Working on shore also permits pirates to work closely with those who profit from piracy activity and receive stolen property. This ensures a market for pirated goods, thus guaranteeing a demand for their work. Again, modern pirates appear more interested in extending the product of their attacks to a larger market in order to capitalize on potential profits. Such complex tactics show an evolution from basic armed robberies and indicate that maritime piracy has become a highly mobile and intelligent form of crime.

Some analysts are concerned that pirates, mainly those from Somalia, are linked to jihadist terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaeda. While this connection has not been directly proven, it appears the organization is at least profiting monetarily from piracy activities, and many suspect some pirates are working with the motivation of raising funds for terrorist groups. If such organizations believe piracy, with its minimal security challenges and consequences, is an easy way to accomplish terrorist objectives, the world may soon see pirates engaging in terrorist behavior.

Consequently, the piracy epidemic emerges as a more dire threat than previously supposed. At the moment, pirates are nearly engaging in terrorist tactics, by attacking and hijacking ships, as well as kidnapping civilians. They might not be using bombs or creating destruction on a level comparable to that of 9/11, or gaining such a grand scale of publicity with their actions, but their attacks seem fuelled with desperation and a disregard for the harm they cause. The line between acts of maritime piracy and terrorism is hazy, and it is only a matter of time before attacks or the use of hijacked vessels become truly perilous.

Despite current amplified efforts to crack down on piracy, the increased number of reported attacks in 2011 suggests even current security measures are not sufficient. This may be caused in part by the fact that apprehended pirates receive little more than a slap on the wrist for their crimes. It is difficult to determine who should be responsible for administering punishment; there is no guideline to determine whether national governments should take the initiative, or whether it is the responsibility of the United Nations or another supranational entity, such as NATO. A reluctance to bear the burden of the time and costs of overseeing piracy penalties may lead to superficial punishment. Indeed, many navies simply capture and release pirates in order to avoid the price of intervention being inflicted on their nation. Since the beginning of 2010, about 1,500 such cases have been reported. If pirates have nothing to fear from being caught, an increased security presence does nothing, if anything, to deter future attacks. Pirates are no small risk; they are a menace to civilians, the private sector, and the state. They are criminals eager to use high levels of aggression. Their actions merit the punishment equal to that of similar criminal acts. If nations continue to turn a blind eye to the atrocities occurring in their waters, other nations must be prepared to become involved. International organizations must therefore step in to impose heavy penalties on those nations that refuse to properly police their waters and must also be prepared to directly intervene in piracy conflicts.

The United Nations Security Council is aware of its responsibility to provide direction, cohesion and a culture of enforcement concerning the upheaval of recent maritime aggression. Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, acknowledged in a Security Council meeting that the upsurge in violent piracy incidents as a response to increased naval presence and technological capabilities has multiplied.6 The United Nations accordingly called for more stringent anti-piracy measures, particularly in Somalia, that would require nations to impose tougher penalties on the culprits. This effort would require cooperation with the United Nations and other similar international institutions, as well as a national dedication to anti-piracy policy and administration. While this attention to the current piracy crisis surely illustrates its magnitude and global danger, the United Nations must do more than simply advise other nations to adopt rigorous anti-piracy legislation. It must set the precedent of global piracy defense by swift, direct action. Mere words and advice cannot eliminate pirates; The United Nations must produce clear, effective anti-piracy laws and inflict penalties upon those nations that do not comply with the organization’s mandates.

Regardless of who must ultimately police pirate activity, given the recent incidents previously discussed, it is apparent the world needs to dedicate increased and vigilant intelligence attention to its waters. Because mother ships and on-shore operations are able to conceal or mask their movements, heightened intelligence is necessary to discover and monitor the whereabouts of such pirates. Similarly, said intelligence must also be directed at observing and studying movement of ships, as the Kenya resort kidnappings show pirates are seeking less prominent targets. This circumspective intelligence would increase the ability to detect, intercept and deter future pirate attacks, especially when paired with a legitimate penalty system. In the case of terrorist motivation, it is essential to commit resources to monitoring the seas before terrorist pirates overwhelm the world’s waters and become capable of catastrophic attacks.

In conclusion, the world must first establish strict and credible punishment. If pirates recognize no valid threat to their behavior, there is no incentive to reduce attack. Regardless of whether terrorism is involved, maritime piracy is clearly swelling, as is the severity of piracy tactics, such as hijackings and kidnappings. International organizations like the United Nations or NATO must enforce strict penalties against nations unwilling to correctly protect their waters. Only then will advanced intelligence work to combat piracy. Without proper consideration and action, maritime security will likewise continue to deteriorate.

Source: OCEANUSLive