The threat of contemporary piracy and the role of the international community

28/11/2013, Rome

While everyone thought that it had been filed away in history books, piracy has re-emerged as an issue in the 21st century and is not going to disappear until the international community decides to deal with its deeper causes, not at sea, but on land. This is the general opinion that emerged at the international conference on the subject held in Rome, organized jointly by the Institute of International Affairs (IAI) and the Centre for High Defence Studies (CASD).

Defined in the Montego Bay Convention as illegal acts of violence or hijacking on the high seas, piracy attacks often take place in the territorial waters of politically instable countries like Somalia, where the state would normally exercise its jurisdiction. Modern piracy reached its peak in 2006 in the Gulf of Aden, where the weakness of certain coastal countries intertwines with the intensity of commercial traffic. 2008 was a good year for international cooperation, especially in contrasting Somali piracy, but the problem is still far from being eradicated.

This was the subject of the international conference, “The threat of contemporary piracy and the role of international community”, moderated by Natalino Ronzitti, scientific advisor at the IAI. Among the speakers were experts on international maritime law, high-level Navy officers and researchers.

In a more interconnected and globalized world, maritime traffic plays a fundamental role: 20% of global maritime trade transits through the Mediterranean Sea, as it is the main link between Europe, Asia and Africa. Hence, greater protection at the international level of both crews and cargo is essential.

The most evident cause of modern piracy is the extreme poverty of the people who practise it. Based on the report presented by Jonathan Lucas, director of UNICRI (United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute) in Turin, pirates are mainly young fishermen, average age 20, who in groups of ten or so, hijack oil tankers, and merchant and container ships for ransom.

The threat of piracy significantly influences maritime trade, mainly by increasing the cost of insurance for ships transiting high-risk areas. Therefore, the international community cannot continue to provide insufficient coordination and delayed information.

Placing maritime defence in the context of European defence, IAI researcher Alessandro Marrone referred to "smart defence", that is the rationalization of available defence instruments. Some of them need to be replaced or eliminated, but others should be strengthened through mutual agreement among the European member states. By coordinating their efforts in different sectors, they can be competitive on various fronts without risking overlap.

The meeting was chaired by Admiral Rinaldo Veri, president of the CASD, who outlined how the reduction in Somali piracy should be considered an important but tenuous success. The fundamental challenge is to promote political stability in these countries and to coordinate European and African Union efforts more effectively.

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