Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) determines that Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(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).
Defining Armed Robbery against ships
Resolution A.1025(26) (Annex, paragraph 2.2) on IMO's Code of Practice for the Investigation of the Crimes of Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, determines that armed robbery against ships consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal act of violence or detention or any act of depredation, or threat thereof, other than an act of piracy, committed for private ends and directed against a ship or against persons or property on board such a ship, within a State's internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea;
(b) any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described above."
For additional information and the United Nation's definitions of internal waters, archipelagic waters and territorial sea, please refer to UNCLOS, Part II: Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone.
IMO Piracy reports
IMO issues incident reports on piracy and armed robbery against ships using data submitted by Member Governments and appropriate international organizations, with the first reports being published in 1982. Since July 2002, IMO's monthly and annual piracy and armed robbery reports classify separately any reported acts or attempted acts of piracy (international waters) and armed robbery against ships (territorial waters).
The reports, which include among other things, the names and a description of ships attacked, position and date/time of incidents, consequences to the crew, ship or cargo, and actions taken by the crew and coastal authorities, are circulated monthly, followed by a comprehensive annual report, published at the beginning of the second quarter of the subsequent year. Additional information regarding acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships is publicly available (subject to registration) in IMO's Piracy and Armed Robbery module within the Organization's Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS).
Regional cooperation among States has an important role to play in solving the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships, as evidenced by the success of the regional anti-piracy and armed robbery agreement and related operations in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore, to which IMO provided and continues to provide assistance, throughout the development and implementation processes.
The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against ships in Asia (RECAAP), which was concluded in November 2004 by 16 countries in Asia, entered into force in September 2006 and encompasses the RECAAP Information Sharing Centre (ISC) for facilitating the sharing of piracy and armed robbery related information, is a good model of a cohesive and successful regional cooperation structure, which IMO seeks to replicate elsewhere around the World.
In recent years, particular focus has been placed on piracy and armed robbery at sea in the Gulf of Aden and the wider Western Indian Ocean, as well as on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. While progress has been made recently in those regions to eradicate piracy, armed robbery and other illicit maritime activities, ships are urged to remain vigilant when navigating through those regions, since the threat of piracy is not "eliminated", noting in particular the increasingly fragile situation ashore in Somalia.
Countering Somalia-based piracy
In January 2009, an important regional agreement was adopted in Djibouti by States in the region, at a high-level meeting convened by IMO. The Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden recognizes the extent of the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region and, in it, the signatories declare their intention to cooperate to the fullest possible extent, and in a manner consistent with international law, in the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships.
The signatories commit themselves towards sharing and reporting relevant information through a system of national focal points and information centres; interdicting ships suspected of engaging in acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships; ensuring that persons committing or attempting to commit acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships are apprehended and prosecuted; and facilitating proper care, treatment, and repatriation for seafarers, fishermen, other shipboard personnel and passengers subject to acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships, particularly those who have been subjected to violence. For additional information on the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) click here.
Countering West Africa-based piracy
IMO and the Maritime Organization of West and Central Africa (MOWCA), in July 2008, developed the Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment a sub-regional integrated Coast Guard Function Network in West and Central Africa and provide a framework of cooperation and guidance for the implementation of the Network. The MoU which has been signed by 15 coastal States in the region aims to initiate joint efforts in the domain of maritime activities to protect human life, enforce laws and improve the safety and protection of the environment. Additional information on MOWCA can be found on their website.
More recently the Code of Conduct concerning the repression of piracy, armed robbery against ships, and illicit maritime activity in west and central Africa was formally adopted by a Heads of State meeting in Cameroon's capital Yaoundé, on 25 June 2013, and was signed by ministerial level representatives of 22 States immediately afterwards. The Code builds on the existing Memorandum of Understanding on the integrated coastguard function network in west and central Africa and incorporates a number of elements of the Djibouti Code of Conduct, the regional counter-piracy agreement for East African States, but is much wider in scope as it addresses a range of illicit activities at sea including illegal fishing, drug smuggling and piracy. For additional information on the Code of Conduct click here.
IMO's Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) highlights adequate self-protection as the most appropriate deterrent to acts or attempted acts of piracy and armed robbery.
To that end, in May 2011 the MSC adopted Resolution MSC.324(89) on the Implementation of Best Management Practice Guidance, which recognizes the urgent need for merchant shipping to take every possible measure to protect itself from pirate attack and that effective self-protection is the best defence. The resolution strongly urges all those concerned to take action to ensure that, as a minimum, ships' masters receive updated information prior to, and which sailing through, the defined High Risk Area (HRA); ships register with the Maritime Security Centre Horn of Africa (MSCHOA) and report to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Dubai, and that ships effectively implement all recommended preventive, evasive and defensive measures.
As of 1 May 2019, the Industry authors have announced new coordinates for the HRA, available here.
The following are recommendations and guidance adopted by IMO to assist governments, shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews in countering acts Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships:
- Recommendations to Governments for preventing and suppressing piracy and armed robbery against ships MSC.1-Circ.1333-Rev.1
- Guidance to shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships MSC.1/Circ.1334
For a more comprehensive list of recommendations and guidance adopted by IMO on the prevention and response to acts Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships - including Guidelines on crimes of piracy and armed robbery investigation and IMO's Code of Practice for the Investigation of Crimes of piracy and armed robbery - please refer to the Guidance on Piracy section of IMO's Maritime Security webpage.
Given the growing use of Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASP), MSC also approved recommendations and guidance on the use of PCASP on board ships in the High Risk Area. This guidance was further developed by the Facilitation Committee, and by a special MSC Intersessional Working Group, which produced a suite of guidance for flag States, for port and coastal States, and for ship-owners, ship operators, and shipmasters on the subject. For additional information regarding PCASP click here.
Governments, shipowners and ship operators, shipmasters and crews, should also note that in order to prevent and suppress acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships effectively, it is the responsibility of the Coastal State/Port State to develop national and regional legislation and action plans outlining the methods they deem appropriate for prevention of such acts. IMO is able to provide technical assistance in this process, if and when requested by Member States, individually (at national level) or collectively (at regional level).
Reports on Piracy and Armed Robbery