Pirating: Acts of Terror

A new generation of pirates has emerged, threatening trade and disturbing the world’s navies successfully. Armed with grenade launchers and assault rifles, pirates in the Gulf of Aden are currently holding 13 vessels. It is a story that keeps re-emerging – This spring, a German Navy warship, Emden, encountered pirate vessels attacking a Japanese tanker. Emden was not allowed to intervene with the attack, as the act of piracy is not legally deemed terrorism.

The legal community is plagued by the following question, ‘Are pirates considered terrorists, or a small army?’ The confusion over the answer directly affects what happens to these pirates once they are caught by navies.  Theoretically, any nation may prosecute pirates, but many choose to ignore the attacks because of the potential strain to a country’s legal system. Furthermore, because Somalia has not had a recognized government since the early 1990s, captured ship owners are quick to pay the ransom because help may never arrive. 

There are many similarities between terrorism and pirating: Pirates, like terrorists, threaten the international community, disassociate themselves from governments and participate in acts of homicide and destruction. Some suggest that because of these similarities, the United States and the international community should adopt a shared legal definition that would recognize the link between piracy and terrorism. This recognition would take the form of an act of Congress or, a new jurisdiction for piracy and terrorism cases at the International Criminal Court.

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