Tuesday, December 12th, 2017


Defining Maritime Terrorism:

The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) Working Group has offered an extensive definition for maritime terrorism:

“…the undertaking of terrorist acts and activities within the maritime environment, using or against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel, against coastal facilities or settlements, including tourist resorts, port areas and port towns or cities.”

This definition, however, does not define what terrorism is and whether it would only include maritime attacks against civilian (merchant) vessels or also attacks against military crafts. I define maritime terrorism, therefore, as the use or threat of violence against a ship (civilian as well as military), its passengers or sailors, cargo, a port facility, or if the purpose is solely a platform for political ends. The definition can be expanded to include the use of the maritime transportation system to smuggle terrorists or terrorist materials into the targeted country. Maritime terrorism is motivated by political goals beyond the immediate act of attacking a maritime target.

Defining Piracy:

Piracy, in contradistinction, according to article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is defined as:

  1. “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;
  2. 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;
  3. any act inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b).”

The UNCLOS definition of piracy developed into international law and the International Maritime Organization (IMO)8 recognized and accepted this definition. Thus, according to international law, any illegal acts of violence and detention which are committed within State’s territorial waters are not defined as piracy. However, according to the IMB, nearby all illegal acts in Southeast Asia occur within territorial waters and thus would not fall under the definition of piracy. Technically, if an attack occurs within the territorial jurisdiction of a state, the event is only classified as piracy if that nation’s penal code criminalizes it as such. Moreover, the IMO defines any unlawful act of violence or detention or any act of depredation at anchor, off ports or when underway through a coastal State’s territorial waters as armed robbery against ships.

In order to overcome the distinctions between high seas and territorial waters, the IMB defines piracy as:

“an act of boarding (or attempted boarding) with the intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the intent or capability to use force in furtherance of that act.”

Established by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in 1981, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) came into existence with the backing of the IMO, the world’s foremost agency for exchanging and collecting information on maritime crime. However, according to the IMO, it is estimated that piracy incidents are likely under-reported by a factor of two (meaning, they assume that for each attack that was announced, there were two additional attacks that were not announced). Moreover, it is likely that the statistics are subject to distortion as many smaller attacks go unreported. This mainly stems from two factors:

  1. the increase in insurance premiums often outweigh the value of the claim for smaller attacks; and
  2. Reporting a piracy attack is often time-consuming can lead to a delay of several days. Keeping in mind the running sunk costs of an idle ship (up to $25,000 per day), in many, especially smaller cases, it is cheaper not to report the incident.

While this wider definition allows the IMB to produce a more comprehensive picture about maritime crime, its definition is not recognized by international law.