Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Crime and Interdiction in the Littoral

Maritime crime can be sub-categorised, to includes theft of goods from ships at anchor or in port, to smuggling of contraband, human trafficking or violent crimes such as piracy or terrorism. All of these today fall short of actual war, at least in their legal sense. Early European lawyers, such as Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), interpreting law in the 17th century had to consider legal arguments about maritime policing actions of the era, some of which would today be regarded as state-sanctioned piracy and terrorism.i Whether the English fleet against Dutch trading vessels off Greenland, or Dutch men-o-war taking action against Portuguese and Spanish ships in Southeast Asia.
Maritime security has been linked to the naval affairs of state, and is still regarded as a means to safeguard strategic national interests of states at sea, including commercial shipping, border protection, pollution control and resource protection.

‘Risk’ is an aspect of maritime security and safety in the practical world of maritime security, as it is in maritime trade. Stakeholders include states, commercial shipping companies, and insurance firms, who all determine the level of threat attached to each operation. The general objective of policing is to reduce the weight of threat to citizens and their property while increasing the level of risk to those who would commit crime. Whether this pendulum of risk swings in favour of victim or perpetrator depends on the facilitation of policing authorities to enforce laws, the extent to which there is provision of punishment as a deterrent, and the efficacy of a judicial system to legally support both of these.

Attacks on the
USS Cole off Yemen, another against the MV Limburg (2002), and several Philippine ferry bombings, all indicate that international maritime law, codes and conventions are only as good as their application in practice. During this decade, there have been constant assaults on oil facilities in the Persian Gulf, ongoing LTTE clashes with the Sri Lankan Navy, and raids by thieves against ships off the coast of Nigeria, and piracy in Southeast Asian waters. The first test-case of official naval action by one nation specifically targeting pirates in modern times took place off the coast of Somalia. Following many incidents against shipping, on 21st January 2006 a U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer was authorized to take action against pirates near Somalia, resulting in several arrests and a trial in Kenya. Ten culprits were convicted as pirates, and all were sentenced to seven years in prison.ii

Maritime piracy has been a topic of discussion for several centuries and has become a popular subject in recent years in part due to film media such as the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Hollywood movie series which portray a romantic and mischievous endeavours. In these, armed attack is portrayed as less noble, more callous, and completely devoid of the romance of Hollywood’s depictions.

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