Piracy is a serious threat to many countries and corporations alike. Over the past decade it has been taken increasingly seriously by Governments and the media in particular, and there has been a marked rise in anti-Piracy efforts among many seafaring countries.
This has seen some particular successes, as Piracy has decreased continually in areas like the Gulf of Aden; Somalia itself has seen almost no reports of Piracy in the last few years.
This does not mean that the threat of Piracy is diminishing overall, however, and it raises the question as to what will happen next in Maritime Environments.
As mentioned above, there has been a massive decrease in Piracy around the Eastern coasts of Africa. This is usually held up as one of the triumphs of anti-Piracy measures, and it is important to celebrate the reduction in attacks. However, African Piracy as a whole has not seen the same downturn, and other areas around the lengthy coasts of Africa have seen increases in the number of attacks. This is particularly true in areas of decreased economic and political stability, where all criminal activities naturally tend to increase.
In Nigeria, for example, Piracy is a growing problem. While the impact of unrest caused by groups like Boko Haram cannot be discounted, it is always difficult to ascertain exactly why rises in Piracy occur. However, some have argued that it is economic downturn that directly affects levels of Piracy. Captain Niyi Labinjo, the Chairman of the Nigeria Shipowner’s Association, told Nigerian media that many pirates came from unemployed maritime cadets, who were not given the opportunity to gain the practical experience needed to join the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) program, leaving them trained for a job they could not undertake.
This, he asserts, led many to go into Piracy, and perhaps explains the increase in Piracy off the coast of Nigeria. If these trained men and women are becoming involved in Piracy, it may explain why the attacks experienced around Nigeria have been more severe than those typically experienced off the coast of Somalia, particularly when comparing the volume of attacks.
Even where Piracy has reduced, it is important to remain vigilant. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reminds seafarers that it will not take much to rekindle Piracy, and they encourage people to be aware of their surroundings. In Somalia in particular they warn that vigilance is extremely important, as it will only take one successful attack to rekindle Piracy in the area. One of the consequences of the decrease in attacks, however, is that anti-Piracy measures begin to be seen as unjustifiable. Furthermore, questions begin to be raised as to the overall efficacy of these methods, and to what extent they have attributed to the fall in Piracy in these areas. There is certainly a redistribution and refocus of these assets, as Maritime Security Forces in particular are used in peacekeeping operations.
This refocus for Maritime Security brings with it the suggestion that anti-Piracy has ulterior motives. A good case study for this question is China, which has increasingly suffered from Pirate attacks. Over the last few years, as both China and Vietnam have begun to focus more on international shipping, the number of recorded attacks by Pirates has risen quite significantly. This is yet another example of the opportunistic nature of these criminal ventures, and why it can be difficult to tackle Piracy with any real success. This is also why the IMB preaches continual vigilance, and why any decline in attacks should not be taken as part of a permanent trend towards eradication.
In response to this increase in attacks, China has begun to work with Djibouti in establishing a Chinese naval base from which anti-Piracy patrols and operations can be launched. By having a base of operations in the Gulf of Aden the Chinese Government can ‘police’ the wide swath from the Suez Canal to the Gulf and on into the Indian Ocean. The use of the word ‘police’ underscores the imperialist overtones associated with anti-Piracy methods, and the additional political and strategic benefits afforded to the host countries. This is evidenced by the Chinese Foreign Minister’s efforts to downplay the strategic benefits of their new naval base, which naturally has strong imperialist connotations. Indeed, it has been noted that these anti-Piracy patrols and operations help ‘to increase their [the host country’s] presence, influence and leverage in the region.’
By looking at the increase of Piracy around China and their response to it we can note two things: firstly, that economic growth can lead to an increase in Piracy. As South East Asia and South America continue to grow and forge new global economic links, so too do the opportunities for Piracy increase. Secondly, that there are strong connections between anti-Piracy efforts and the strategic interests of the countries in question. This is not to say that the efforts undertaken to combat Piracy were done so solely for selfish purpose, but it does lead one to ask what effect these missions will have after the decline of Piracy in that area.