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Model United Nations

International Maritime Organization Topic 1

Piracy at Sea 

This Committee’s primary objective is to tackle the resurgence of piracy at sea as a member state of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO is a specialized agency within the United Nations (UN) founded on March 17, 1948. The organizations’ primary responsibility deals with safety, security and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.” (IMO 2013). The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as: 

(a) 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; 

(b) 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; 

(c) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b). (UNCLOS 1982). 

The IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) deals with both passenger and cargo ship matters of maritime safety that fall within the purview of the IMO (MSC 2021). Member states will have to work together in the MSC to create suitable guidance and regulations that effectively manage and mitigate the threat of piracy at sea. 

Piracy in the 21st century has little resemblance to the traditional pirate stereotypes portrayed on popular television and film. Modern pirates use rocket-propelled grenades launched from nimble speedboats to force a vessel to slow down and board ships with grappling hooks (Mansfield 2008). Once aboard, usually armed with machine guns, pirates steal personal items, electronics, cargo, and food, often with no desire to take the whole vessel (Mansfield 2008). In some cases, pirates will abduct a ship’s crew and force them to anchor near land to pillage the vessel and demand a ransom for the safe return of the crew (Mansfield 2008). Global economic expansion has provided an opportunity for pirates to act on “cross-border exchanges of commerce, people and information.” (Mansfield 2008). Generally, piracy has been a local issue dealt with by local authorities, but globalization has brought the issue to international attention (Mansfield 2008). 

The Council on Foreign Relations has identified four major areas for pirate attacks “the Gulf of Aden, near Somalia and the southern entrance to the Red Sea; the Gulf of Guinea, near Nigeria and the Niger River delta; the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia; and off the Indian subcontinent, particularly between India and Sri Lanka.” (Alessi 2012). The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) reports that in the first nine months of 2020, there was a 40% increase in the acts of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea (Colney 2020). The ICC now considers the Gulf of Guinea as a global hotspot for piracy. A notable act of piracy took place on September 8, 2020, off the coast of Nigeria, in which armed pirates boarded a cargo ship and kidnapped two crew members who were not able to retreat (Colney 2020). Nigeria subsequently dispatched a naval team that searched the ship and escorted it back to a safe location for further investigation (Colney 2020).  

In Somalia, piracy emerged after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre left an absence of central authority; subsequently, fishermen responded by arming themselves and exploiting the coastline by charging a “fishing fine” (Alessi 2012). In West Africa, piracy emerged as a response to social and political grievances and focused on taking oil tankers and selling its contents for profit, and in Southeast Asia, piracy has focused on ransacking cargo fishing products (Alessi 2012). 

The UN Security Council in 2008 passed Resolution 1851, which authorized states with navies to deploy ships to the Gulf of Aden, with Somalian permission, to act against piracy (Alessi 2012). The IMO has also aided Member States in developing counter-piracy measures, such as the Djibouti Code of Conduct. Best Management Practices (BMP) have also been published by the IMO outlining appropriate measures against piracy in specific regions. 

Governments have responded to piracy by patrolling shipping corridors, but the response is like “sticking plaster on a gaping wound” (Alessi 2012). Additionally, pirates, such as those in Somalia, have begun operating farther offshore to avoid naval patrols (Alessi 2012). Since patrols by governments have proven not to be enough, many ships began to hire armed guards to deter pirates (Alessi 2012). However, there is no process for regulating these guards, and that could create complications. An incident in which “two Italian marines aboard a cargo ship shot and killed Indian fishermen suspected of being pirates” highlights the possible complications (Alessi 2012). 

Your task is to create a plan for combating piracy in order to secure international maritime trade.

Questions to Consider:

  • Does your country have an interest in protecting ships navigating through piracy hotspots? Why or why not? 
  • How does your country stand on international cooperation against acts of piracy? 
  • Are there any steps or policies your country has taken that should be considered or adopted by the United Nations?
  • What are the current actions, if any, being taken by your country’s government to address acts of piracy either domestically or abroad? 

Resources to Consider:  

Bibliography:

Alessi, Christopher, & Hanson, Stephanie. 2012. “Combating maritime piracy” March 23, 2012, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/combating-maritime-piracy 

Colney, Timothy, 2020. “Pirates are Kidnapping more seafarers off West Africa, IMB reports” October 14, 2020, https://iccwbo.org/media-wall/news-speeches/imb-piracy-report-2020/ 

IMO 2013. “IMO What it is” October 2013 https://wwwcdn.imo.org/localresources/en/About/Documents/What%20it%20is%20Oct%202013_Web.pdf

Mansfield T., Charles, 2008. “Modern Piracy: The Impact on Maritime Security” January 1, 2008, https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA490682.pdf

MSC 2021 “Maritime Safety Committee (MSC)” 2021 https://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/MeetingSummaries/Pages/MSC-Default.aspx

UNCLOS 1982. “United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” December 10, 1982, https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf