Piracy and Terrorism at Sea

Incidents of piracy and terrorism at sea are frequently in the news, and the experience for the innocent parties can be terrifying. Here, John Knott and Toby Stephens look at some key practical, legal and insurance aspects, and they explain how owners can take steps to reduce risks and help to safeguard their vessels and crews.

In recent years, particularly following the devastation caused in New York on 11 September 2001, the world has come to recognise the ever-present threat of acts of terrorism. Sometimes these acts have no obvious motive, while at other times the aims of the perpetrators appear to be social, religious or political change, or simply revenge. Also frequently in the news are acts of piracy at sea, particularly in recent times in the vicinity of Somalia and Nigeria. But although acts of terrorism and piracy are equally abhorrent, and the effects for those at sea may be similar, there is scant credible evidence to support a popular view that these two activities are linked.

That is a conclusion expressed in a June 2008 report of a study by the Rand Corporation (”The Maritime Dimension of International Security: Terrorism, Piracy, and Challenges for the United States”), and coincides with the opinion held by the International Maritime Bureau. In theory, a key factor differentiating piracy from terrorism is that the principal aim of piracy is a personal and commercial one—the acquisition of property—whether as an end in itself or as a means to another end, which may include the funding of terrorist activity. Another indicator is that piracy is usually a product of poor economic conditions in some areas of the world; although it may also be purely criminal activity, which can occur anywhere.

Nowadays, piracy is liable to conjure up different images for different people. Movie-goers may think of a Hollywood-style adventure yarn; pop music fans may recall public broadcasts from unlicensed radio transmitters; while to copyright lawyers it may mean the infringement of intellectual property rights. But here, we consider the term in its traditional meaning—violent robbery at sea. Sometimes people seek to make distinctions for cosmetic reasons. A member of a marauding gang operating off the coast of Somalia was recently reported as being indignant at being referred to as a pirate. “We are not pirates,” he insisted. “We are hijackers!”

So, what is piracy? Read more here: Piracy and Terrorism at Sea.

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