Piracy has been a problem ever since the days when ships were first used to carry cargo for commerce. Colonialism and the increase in seaborne trade that came with it, especially between England, Africa and the Caribbean, made the act of piracy particular profitable in the 17th century.
In fact it became such a problem during the 17th and early 18th centuries that the British Royal Navy was forced to dramatically increase the size of its fleet and hunt down pirate vessels. This together with the Piracy Act of 1698 which allowed for the any acts of piracy to be "examined, inquired of, tried, heard and determined, and adjudged in any place at sea, or upon the land, in any of his Majesty’s islands, plantations, colonies, dominions, forts, or factories", put a halt to piracy in these regions.
Latterly in 2005, the areas around Somalia and the Gulf of Aden saw an alarming increase in the number of acts of piracy. As a result, in January 2009, the IMO convened a meeting in the region during which the "Djibouti Code of Conduct" was agreed and became effective in the same month. The Code specifically dealt with inter-governmental co-operation and the sharing and reporting of information regarding acts of piracy. It also promoted the apprehension and prosecution of those suspected of carrying out acts of piracy and the seizure of their vessels. Of the twenty-one countries eligible to sign the Djibouti Code of Conduct, twenty have done so.
Southeast Asia has now become the latest hot spot for piracy which is now at an all time high for the region. Despite the decline in the price of oil, there appears to be an insatiable demand and a booming black market. Tankers are being targeted, especially smaller tankers as they tend to have inadequate security arrangements. So far this year an estimated $10 million of oil has been pirated in the region. It therefore appears that despite the good intentions of ReCAAP, (the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia), which now has twenty contracting parties; simply sharing information is not working.
In its latest circular (MSC.1/Circ.1333/Rev.1), issued on 12th June 2015, the IMO again issued a series of recommendations. Once more these focus on the gathering of statistics; the need for coastal states/port states to develop action plans on how to prevent acts of piracy, and the actions to take when they arise. It further urges governments and security forces to liaise with their counterparts in neighbouring States. With regard to flag states it recommends that they are to discourage their seafarers from carrying or using firearms for the protection of themselves or their ship. Additionally, flag states should remind ship operators to ensure that their vessels have well documented procedures in place which detail what to do in the event of an act of piracy. However, such procedures should already be in place as they are covered in the ISPS Code and the ISM Code.
Unlike the pirates of the 17th century, today’s pirates have heavy weapons, satellite phones and fast vessels. Piracy is once again a lucrative business and needs to be curbed. It also comes at a considerable cost to the maritime industry and the world economy. Perhaps it is time that the IMO and the international community looked to take a firmer stance on piracy as the British did way back in the 17th century.