The IMO Enacts New Policies to Combat Piracy at Sea

High tech weaponry and political instability in certain parts of the world can be quite a volatile mix, which is why piracy at sea and armed robbery are still major concerns for all active ships and their crews. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) continues to enact effective measures to prevent and combat piracy at sea, by improving ship and port security regulations, beginning in December 2002.

Piracy is defined by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) article 101 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:
    – On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    – 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 (1) or (2)

To minimize and prevent the occurrence of piracy at sea and armed robbery, the IMO launched a long term anti-piracy project in 1998, which is still ongoing because of the ever evolving threats to ship and port security. The first phase of the initiative focused on educational regional seminars and workshops, which was attended by concerned government officials from many of the piracy plagued regions around the world. To properly gauge the risk and create effective policy, several evaluation and assessment missions to varying regions of concern were completed. This way, counter piracy policies can be as specific as they are effective to the regions they are meant to protect.

Armed robbery and piracy at sea can be effectively prevented or minimized if government entities in any given region are focused on cooperation and communication. One such example of effective regional cooperation is the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (RECAAP), which includes the participation of 16 Asian countries. The RECAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) was created to enhance the sharing of piracy related information, to maximize preparedness, avoid danger, and minimize ship and port vulnerabilities. The IMO would like to use RECAAP as a model to combat pirates in other regions, since it has proven so effective for the participating countries.

The particular areas of concern today are the waters off the Somalian coast, the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of New Guinea. To address the piracy risks and threats, a regional agreement was accepted by the all the affected States in the region, which was formally legitimized at a high level meeting sponsored by the IMO in Djibouti (a country located in the horn of Africa). Called the “Djibouti Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden”, it requires the signatories to cooperate in the prevention of piracy and prosecution of pirates and armed robbers against all ships while staying true to international law.

This means that the participating states must share and report relevant information through an organized system of information centers; investigate ships and crews suspected of committing piracy; and apprehend and prosecute people who commit or attempt to commit piracy. In addition, proper care, humane treatment, and repatriation must also be provided for seafarers, fishermen, crew members, and passengers victimized by pirates.

To do its part in preventing piracy, the IMO releases reports on piracy and armed robbery against vessels, which are officially submitted by Member States and international organizations. The in-depth reports include the name of the vessels; the descriptions of the attacked ships; position and time of attack; and accurate record of consequences to the crew, the passengers, the ship, or the cargo; and whatever measures (if any) were taken by the ship’s crew or the port authorities. These essential reports are currently being distributed monthly, which also include quarterly and annual summaries.

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