Combatting piracy and armed robbery against ships - call for international Code

Governments need to intensify their efforts to combat piracy and armed robbery against ships and IMO should consider developing an international code for the investigation of piracy and armed robbery against ships and recommending an appropriate punishment for the crime.

These were the conclusions reached at the first of a series of regional seminars, organized by IMO, to discuss the prevention and suppression of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

The most recent seminar and workshop took place in Singapore, for the South East Asia region, in February 1999. In October 1998, a seminar and workshop on piracy and armed robbery against ships for the Latin American and Wider Caribbean region was conducted in Brasilia.

At both seminars, participating States agreed: piracy and armed robbery against ships represent a serious and growing problem and may pose a threat to the safety of life at sea and the marine environment.

A third regional seminar and workshop is being planned for the West African region for the second half of 1999; and subject to the availability of funds, a regional seminar and workshop for the Indian Ocean region is envisaged during the year.

Proposed international code

The Brasilia and Singapore seminars adopted similar resolutions calling for IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) - which next meets for its 71st session 19-28 May 1999 - to recommend the IMO Legal Committee consider developing an international code for the investigation of piracy and armed robbery against ships and recommending an appropriate punishment for the crime.

The resolutions note that the fight against piracy and armed robbery against ships is, in some cases, hampered by the absence of effective procedures in some countries for investigating reported cases of piracy committed on the high seas.

In other cases, where arrests have been made, some countries do not have in place the legislative framework necessary to adequately punish criminals convicted of piracy. There is also a need to harmonize, at an international level, procedures for exercising jurisdiction for investigating reported cases of piracy and armed robbery against ships and the punishment or extradition of suspects of such crimes.

Review of piracy circulars

The seminars reviewed circulars issued by IMO aimed at dealing with piracy and armed robbery against ships, which were adopted in 1993, and proposed changes to update the circulars and make the guidelines more comprehensive. These proposed changes will be put forward to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC). The circulars concerned are:

MSC/Circ.622
Recommendations to Governments for combatting piracy and armed robbery against ships analyzes the types of attacks encountered by ships in different parts of the world and suggests possible counter-measures that could be employed by Rescue Co-ordination Centres and security forces.

MSC/Circ.623
Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships contains advice on measures that could be taken onboard to prevent attacks or, when they occur, to minimize the danger to the crew and ship.

Piracy missions

In addition to the piracy seminars, IMO has organized missions of experts to certain countries for the purpose of increasing awareness of the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships, impressing on those countries the need for action and also motivating political will to act at national and regional levels.

The first mission took place in October 1998 when the IMO team, consisting of representatives of the Governments of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, observers from the International Chamber of Shipping and International Shipping Federation (ICS/ISF) and International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF/ICFTU) and IMO staff members, visited Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

A similar mission was undertaken to the ports of Santos and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil in October 1998.

A third mission, followed by a regional seminar and workshop, is scheduled to take place in West Africa in the second half of 1999.

Piracy statistics

The number of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to IMO in 1998 was 210, a decrease of 42 (17%) over the figure for 1997.

The areas most affected in 1998 (i.e. five incidents reported or more) were the Far East, in particular the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait, South America and the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and West and East Africa.

Compared to 1997, the number of incidents reported to have occurred decreased

  • from 8 to 6 in the Malacca Strait,
  • from 101 to 94 in the South China Sea, from 45 to 38 in South America and the Caribbean,
  • from 41 to 25 in the Indian Ocean,
  • from 11 to 2 in the Mediterranean and Black Seas and
  • from 30 to 22 in West Africa
  • but increased from 11 to 19 in East Africa.

Most of the attacks worldwide were reported in territorial waters while the ships were at anchor or berthed. In many of the reports received, the crews were violently attacked by groups of one to five people carrying guns.

A total of 51 crew members of the ships involved were killed and 31 wounded during the reported incidents. On two occasions, pirates used false distress signals to deceive their victims.

The total number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships, reported to have occurred from 1984 to the end of April 1999, was 1,455.