Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

August 2000 (Vol. XXIV No. 5)


Maritime Order and Piracy
By Vijay Sakhuja *


Order at sea, respect for laws and conventions and peaceful regulation of seaborne trade are some of the central themes of the maritime world. Over the years, the international system of maritime enterprise has shown a remarkable degree of resilience and strength in challenging destabilising forces. In the past, a majority of maritime security problems were either political or military in nature and were resolved through direct diplomatic negotiations or through action. Today, however, a state’s maritime security needs have become far more complex and demand newer methods to deal with them.

The maritime security environment is being challenged from several directions. Some of these are: piracy, gun running, drug smuggling, illegal migration, environmental pollution, maritime boundary disputes and illegal fishing. None is independent of each other and failure in one often leads to failure in others. Therefore any act that challenges maritime order almost by definition challenges security. The international community has called for greater cooperation among states to address these challenges.

This paper examines, the challenge posed by maritime piracy. It highlights causes for the rising graph and responses by states to counter it. The enormity of the threat that piracy poses to maritime enterprise is phenomenal and has the potential to disrupt international law and order at sea. In turn, this problem would impact on international system of trade, the bulk of which is conducted through the maritime medium. The paper also discusses India’s efforts in combating piracy.


Definition and International Law

The Convention on the High Seas 1958‘ promulgated the modern international law on piracy. The convention has nine out of 29 operative articles which deal specifically with piracy and its control. 1 Article 15 of the convention defines piracy as an illegal act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passenger of a private ship or a private aircraft and directed on the high seas against another ship or aircraft. 2

A more authoritative codification of the international law on piracy is, however contained in Article 101 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982 UNCLOS). 3 The 1982 UNCLOS definition remains unchanged from the earlier 1958 Geneva Convention on the High Seas. This narrow definition restricts it to unlawful acts committed by a private ship against another ship for private ends. However, a broader view postulates that acts committed for other than private ends can constitute piracy. Explanations of the jurisdiction over the place and persons who can apprehend a pirate or property in control of the pirates are highlighted in Article 105 and 107 of 1982 UNCLOS. 4

In the absence of an international tribunal to punish piracy, it has become imperative for individual nations to try and punish the offence. Purely because pirates in the international sense are enemies of al hotis humani genesis. 5 So pirates merit to be treated as criminals regardless of their nationality. Interestingly the 1982 UNCLOS also considers piracy committed by a warship, government vessel or an aircraft whose crew has mutinied and seized control, as illegal and to be treated as an act of piracy. Since no state can exercise its writ on the high seas, 1982 UNCLOS Article 100 urges all countries to cooperate and collectively curb piracy outside their maritime jurisdiction. 6 Article 105 notes that the courts of the seizing state may decide on the penalties and determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property captured from the pirates. 7 Despite this proviso, it seems to be a general principle of law that pirata non mutual dominium, irrespective of the rules of municipal law about acquisition in good faith or stolen property. It is traditional for the captor to be rewarded for saving private property. 8

The International Maritime Bureau defines piracy as ‘an act of boarding any vessel with the intention to commit theft or any other crime and with the intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act. 9 It is a wider definition and allows the International Maritime Bureau to undertake a detailed analysis of all acts of violence and theft against the seafaring community at sea and not restricted to the high sea only which is the classical United Nation’s definition. This is like casting the net wider.


Till the 1980s, piracy was generally considered history and restricted to the silver screen but the 1990s has seen resurgence in maritime piracy. Clearly, various political, economic and military reasons are responsible for the rise of crime on the high seas. The Cold War cease-fire resulting in a shrinking Soviet navy and the limited US naval presence may have also contributed to encouraging piracy. Likewise the handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China led to the exit of the British Royal Navy. Similarly the recent southeast Asian economic crisis has also depressed defence budgets and thereby scaled down naval activity like patrolling by regional navies. This move has also increased piracy in recent times in these waters.


Piracy and Violence

The most horrifying aspect of maritime piracy is the associated violence. There is a typical pattern, which has emerged over the years with the crew traumatised, hurt, injured, left adrift or even killed. The international shipping community is growing more pessimistic over the ability of states to suppress piracy. In the first quarter of 1999, the International Maritime Bureau reported more than 70 attacks, most of which occurred in waters off Indonesia. 10 From a mere 43 reported attacks of violence to crew in 1991, the figure rose sharply to 290 in 1996. In 1995 and 1996 there were 26 reported cases of killings each year. 11

Invariably a ship’s crew are taken hostage, assaulted or even killed and their belongings’ normally stolen. Often the entire ship and its cargo are sold illegally. Like hijacking, piracy is an international crime, which affects not only the passengers, crew and ship-owners, it also threatens the shipping community.

Piracy Hot Spots

Pirates resemble sharks that breed and surface more often in some waters than others. Significantly, southeast Asia proves to be the most popular and accounts for almost half of the reported attacks, according to the Worldwide Maritime Piracy Report. 12 The other seas include waters off Africa (Somalia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone), South China Sea (the triangle formed by Hong Kong–Luzon–Hainan Island and waters off the Philippines) Central America and the Mediterranean Sea. In the South Asian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Indian waters were also plagued with piracy.

Sri Lanka

Although waters off Sri Lanka have generally remained free from piracy, the northeastern waters have witnessed frequent acts of piracy. In one incident, M V Cordiality, a merchant vessel was captured and five Chinese crew were killed allegedly by Sri Lankan terrorists near the port of Trincomalee. 13 LTTE rebel forces are also reported to hijack ships and boats of all sizes and kidnapping and killing of crew members is a common practice. In August 1998, a Belize flagged general cargo vessel MV Princess Kash was hijacked by LTTE rebels. 14 While on its way to Mullaitivu, a LTTE stronghold, the Sri Lankan Air Force bombed the vessel to prevent the ship’s cargo falling into the hands of the LTTE. The status of the 22 crew members is still not known.


Some of the most lethal pirate attacks have taken place in waters off Bangladesh. In one incident pirates attacked and killed 14 fishermen. The survivors reported that the pirates were carrying automatic weapons and ordered the crew to jump overboard. The trawler carrying fish worth US $ 50,000 was hijacked. Earlier too, pirates had attacked fishing vessels off the coast of Pattakhali and threw 13 crew members overboard. 15 In February 1998, pirates threw stones and missiles at a vessel off Chittagong port. The attack was repeated the next day, but was repelled with no injuries to crew and nothing stolen. 16 In June 1998, MV Britoil 4, a Singapore flagged vessel, was attacked in Chittagong port and a crew member killed. 17


In 1991 there were 107 reported attacks which increased to 224 in 1996 according to the International Maritime Bureau. In 1997 this figure witnessed yet another increase totalling 247 attacks. 18 The number of reported attacks during the period June 15, 1998 to June 15, 1999 reached an all time high of 275 attacks with an estimated unreported attacks pegged at 130. 19 In terms of statistical data, the threat posed by piracy has exhibited a marked increase. The 1990s have thus witnessed an impressive increase of 160 per cent. The statistical data relating to southeast Asia is indeed disturbing. The reported attacks in the region rose from three in 1980 to 60 in 1990 before reaching an all time high of 102 in 1991. 20 Southeast Asia along with South China Sea are danger zones in terms of piratical attacks. The actual problem of piracy is much more disturbing and serious than what the figures reflect. According to Eric Allen, Executive Director of the International Chamber of Commerce, Crime Division, only incidents that occur on the high seas are reported while less than half of these attacks go unreported. 21 This is evident from the 130 unreported attacks in 1999 against a total of 275 in 1998-99. Shipping companies privately concede to attacks on their vessels but prefer not to report. Many victims of attacks are so traumatised that they do not have a desire to return to sea again, but shipowners fail to appreciate this fact and discourage crew from reporting incidents of attacks.

International Response

The International Maritime Organisation is a specialised arm of the United Nations. It is responsible for addressing the problem of disorder at sea. It first addressed the problem of piracy in 1983 when governments expressed concern over the proliferating problem. 22 Consequently, the International Maritime Organisation adopted a resolution exhorting all states to prevent acts of piracy against ships in or adjacent to their waters. It also called upon states to report all incidents of piracy to the IMO. The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the IMO, in its 49th session in 1984, established ‘piracy and armed robbery against ships' as a separate and fixed item in its programmes. 23 in 1986, the MSC decided to disseminate the information of incidents of piracy to state governments and port authorities for comments and advice on the actions they had taken with regard to the incidents. In view of the piracy graph escalating, the IMO in 1991 adopted another resolution ‘Prevention and suppression of acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships urging governments to report all incidents of piracy and make all efforts to support anti-piracy in their water’s. 24 This resulted in MSC compiling reports first biannually, then quarterly and now monthly. The IMO also circulates quarterly and annual summaries.


The Malaysian Prime Minister stated, “Is it too much to ask that those who use the passages and the maritime nations contribute towards the cost of keeping them free and safe”. 25 With encouragement from the international community, the International Maritime Bureau set up the Piracy Reporting Center (PRC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1991. Although constrained by financial resources (US $ 38,000 in 1994), the Regional Piracy Reporting Center has come a long way since its inception. 26 It is the world’s first and only dedicated anti piracy unit. To that extent there is greater awareness of piracy and the loss of lives. The Center now sends a daily satellite broadcast to mariners at sea on the reported piracy attacks. However, the current satellite broadcasts are not available to companies on land and are not always picked up by the ships at sea.

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), now hosts a website. 27 The report containing details of location and the nature of attacks, hijacking, killing of crew, ships lost etc. on the shipping in East and Southeast Asian region is now posted on the Commercial Crime Service page of the International Chamber of Commerce website. Captain RK Mukandan, the Director of International Chamber of Commerce, Crime Service Division notes that shipping companies will now be able to download the reports and send them to their respective ships through telexes providing an early warning on the situation in piracy prone areas. 28 The International Maritime Bureau, however publishes a piracy report every quarter which is followed by an annual report titled ‘Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships’.

Significantly non state actors have started engaging in anti piracy activities. These are private enterprises which are in the business of combating crime at sea. Like all private enterprises these ventures are commercially driven and their services have certainly contributed to tackle terrorism in the oceanic dimension. The Global Anti Piracy (GAP) Maritime Security Initiative is a multinational joint venture that aims to address operational aspects of countering maritime crime through training and direct action. 29 The current partners are: Special Ops Associates, USA, Systems Integrity International Pvt. Ltd and Australia and Kingwoods Project, UK. These agencies are engaged in maritime security, anti piracy security, training of vessel owners and operators. The Special Ops Associates, USA have recently published a report entitled ‘Worldwide Maritime Piracy–June 1999’. It provides an overview of the current state of piracy. The agency has been actively engaged in solving maritime crime and a new website has been established to address the problem (www.maritime

Another agency, Maritime Risk Management, SA has pioneered work in the field of Maritime Piracy, Maritime Asset Recovery and Protection (MARAP). 30 It has developed ways to track, locate and recover target vessels. The Maritime Risk Management now maintains a growing database of piracy incidents as well as personnel involved (caught, convicted or reported). In 1998, the Maritime Risk Management launched ‘Rapid Response Service’ to recover ships, cargoes and rescue the victims. It has developed ‘ship Trace’ a covert bugging device for ships which can track a ships’ course and any deviations from the intended course would alert the interested agency. 31 The agency claims that the covert nature of ‘ship Trace’ ensures that it cannot be dislodged by pirates or by the crew under duress. The agency also maintains a close liaison with authorities in the areas prone to piracy.

National Responses

The recent report on worldwide maritime piracy indicates a spurt in piracy, which only proves that state machinery is unable to tackle the menace effectively. 32 Pirates move swiftly with exceptional nautical skill and avoid sticking to a single nation’s territorial waters in order to avoid hot pursuit. This prevents navies and coast guards from apprehending them as it would involve transgressing into another state’s waters thereby creating a jurisdictional problem.

The problem is that most states lack bilateral or multilateral agreements to permit other navies/coast guards to indulge in hot pursuit of pirates into each other’s waters. This absence of an institutionalised understanding among countries has largely been responsible for perpetuating piracy. The report further observes that the United States has had no recent record of piracy in and around its territorial waters. This has not been so only because of the advanced capabilities of the US Coast Guard and the US Navy. However the US diplomatic initiatives have succeeded in the war against piracy. 33

Unlike the US success story, Japan has proved to be a victim of piracy owing to its large mercantile fleet and the law of averages. Essentially, this prosperous island state has a total tonnage of 18 million GRT (gross registered tonnage) and Japanese ships are most visible in Asian waters as also in other parts of the world. According to a survey involving 160 Japanese companies, in the past five to six years there have been 66 incidents of piracy involving Japanese vessels. 34 While these are the reported incidents, several more may have gone unreported in keeping with worldwide trends.

The Nippon Foundation has already begun developing a Northern Sea Route to Europe as an alternative to the Malacca Strait. 35 The foundation has invested some US$13.1 million over the last six years on the development of this route under the Ship and Ocean Foundation’s International Northern Sea Route Programme (INSROP). The Northern Sea Route involves transit through frozen seas and harsh weather conditions, thereby requiring ice breakers to keep the passage open. According to the Foundation, it is a shorter route (distance between Tokyo and Hamburg via NSR is 6,600 nautical miles compared to 11,400 nautical miles via the Strait of Malacca and 18,600 nautical miles via the Cape of Good Hope off South Africa) and has the potential for realising safer shipping with Europe and Atlantic countries. 36 The Northern Sea Route had been in use during the early nineteenth century, but it remained closed until the late 1980s as the former Soviet Union refused to allow passage to international shipping. 37 The Japanese are well aware of the weather and sea conditions involving the NSR but argue that priacy is a serious problem and they must develop alternate routes.

Another aspect of poor national response to piracy stems from the fact that the state governments may have poor control over the area or even on law enforcing agencies. China appears to have come under great international pressure both in terms of being accused of not taking effective legal action against pirates as also providing a safe haven for pirates and captured vessels. The ICC–International Maritime Bureau and the Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO), on behalf of the international maritime community, lodged a strong protest with the Chinese government in regard to the treatment of merchant vessels in Chinese ports. 38 Several incidents involving Chinese port authorities, the Chinese Public Safety Bureau and the Chinese Police and the Navy are the basis for this appeal. President Jiang Zemin is reported to have announced the creation of a new unit from the Customs Administrative and Public Security Department for anti-smuggling operations. 39 The swelling appetite for smuggled goods in China has to some extent also been responsible for piratical attacks.

Another major complaint against China is that it deports pirates, rather than prosecute them. The hijackers of M V Petro Ranger, a small oil product tanker hijacked by pirates off Malaysia and later found in China were repatriated to Indonesia without a trial. 40 In 1995, the People’s Liberation Army Navy was accused of seizing two vessels. However, this was denied by Beijing. The Chinese responded by issuing stern warning of punishment against those who “pretended to be naval vessels and commit acts of piracy at sea”. 41 In Somalia, armed robbers posing as Somali Coast Guard attack vessels. The trends have continued unabated.

In 1996, the Philippines Navy clashed with a Chinese pirate vessel. The craft was captured after a gun battle. Among the items found on board the vessel were charts and coastal book maps published by the Navigation Security Department of the PLA Navy’s Naval Headquarters. 42 The Chinese police are reported to have arrested fourteen Myanmar nationals in connection with the hijacking of the Panama registered M V Marine Master during her voyage from China to India with a cargo of soda ash. 43 In its biggest high seas piracy cases, China put on trial 38 people involved in maritime crime including those involved in slaying 23 crew members of M V Cheng Sheng who had been bludgeoned to death and dumped overboard. 44 Members of the gang were charged with crimes including murder, robbery, possession of weapons, drugs, and explosives. The Beijing Morning Post, a state run publication noted that this was China’s biggest case of robbery and murder in fifty years of communist rule. 45

The reputation for vulnerability to piratical attacks adversely affects a nation’s international standing both in terms of diplomacy as also economy. It could even lead to a threat of boycott of ports for transshipment/unloading. In 1992-93, Japanese ship owners and NUMAST (UK trade union representing Masters, officers and cadets of merchant ships) had threatened to redirect trade unless maritime surveillance and security improved in Hong Kong. 46

Surprisingly warships have also not escaped contemporary piracy. For instance, the Russian Federation Navy Ship Nikolai, Vilkor, a 3,400 ton Alligator class amphibious vessel was pursued by pirates though she had shown search lights on her guns to indicate that she was a dangerous target and fired warning shots, to deter the doughty priates. 47 However, the warship was still followed for about an hour. As a response the Russian Federation Navy instituted regular warship patrols in the East China Sea to counter such a problem in future. Clearly this sends a signal to regional states that navies should cooperate with each other to collectively counter piracy.

Military Response

Brian Paritt, the chief executive of International Maritime Security was quoted as saying that traditionally, ‘piracy has been defeated by firepower. In the past, generally the colonial nations sent gunboats (to Asia) but the era has died’. 48 At times firepower is the only answer to intercept a pirate vessel. To that extent, a military response involving routine warship patrols would be suitable to thwart piracy. However, the dedicated deployment of navies for anti-piracy operations may lead to dilution of their primary war-fighting role.

The recent incident involving M V Alondra Rainbow highlights the relevance of navies. Interestingly the Bangladesh Army and the Navy have been tasked to protect cargo from pirates and thieves. The chief operations executive of Chittagong port said thieves frequently find their way to jetties and ships with the help of dishonest port security guards. 49 The Bangladesh Navy has been asked to enhance patrolling around the port, especially in the waters around the outer anchorage.

Technology Responses

While there have been improvement and advances in ship technology, the area of self-defence against robbery and crime has not caught the attention of technology experts. The International Maritime Bureau has been working with CLS, a well known satellite tracking system operator, to produce a satellite tracking system called SHIPLOCK. 50 It consists of a small transmitter that can be installed on board a ship without anybody’s knowledge of its whereabouts. It helps the ship owners to locate their computers having an internet connection and can be installed at a nominal rental cost of US$150 to US$310 per month depending on the features. 51 The equipment has been installed on board several ships and the International Maritime Bureau has strongly recommended its installation on all vessels. Besides serving as an anti hijacking device, the equipment also facilities ship owners to locate their ships at any time. British based Videotel Production, a leader in providing maritime training, with assistance from the International Maritime Bureau, has prepared an educational video on piracy. 52

Counter Piracy

It is difficult to eliminate piracy altogether, but both mariners and governments must undertake anti piracy and counter piracy operations. The anti piracy operations call upon the crew to be proactive and extra vigilant. Standard Operations Procedures (SOP) need to be established using onboard resources like alarms, water hoses, extra lookouts, illumination and firing of flares. These basic measures can deter the would be attacker.

There has been a debate among mariners whether to equip the ship’s crew with fire arms to fight piracy. The moment a ship’s crew is armed with weapons for self-defence, its status changes to that of a combatant or a man-of-war. The popular opinion among mariners is not to offer any resistance and save lives. There has also been a call for ‘ships bodyguards’ on every vessel. Although the idea is good but a suggested daily cost of US $2500 per man is not so attractive. 53 An analysis of incidents of reports over the last five years show that at least 75 per cent of all successful boardings were carried out with the attackers maintaining the element of surprise, regardless of where and when they occurred. It calls for crew alertness and security consciousness.

Piracy and Environment

Piracy also threatens the environment. While theft, robbery, killing of innocent mariners and sale of captured vessels is inexcusable, little attention is being paid to the environmental dimension of piracy though it is not directly connected with it. The ecological and environmental disaster caused by MV Exxon Valdez still looms large in the minds of environmentalists. In an incident in April 1992, pirates attacked Cyprus registered MV Valiant Carrier, an oil tanker sending a chilling reminder of what piracy can do. 54 During the attack on the ship, the pirates gathered the crew and locked them up. The ship remained ‘not under command’ during the attack. One of the crew members managed to escape and averted a major disaster. The crew is often put in life rafts and boats and the ship left adrift. These vessels can result in collision or grounding, leading to environmental and navigational hazards. Between 1989 and 1993 there were two other cases of vessels ‘not under command’ as a result of pirate attacks. 55


India’s Role in Combating Piracy

With a coastline of over 7,500 kilometers and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2.3 million square kilometers, India occupies an important geo-strategic position in the Indian Ocean. The peninsula juts out for almost 1000 nautical miles thereby providing it an extended sea frontage. Ninety seven per cent of India’s trade is moved by sea. There are 11 major and 167 minor ports.

Indian waters are home to important sea lanes that serve as the umbilical cord of the economies of several countries in the Asia Pacific, North and South America. They carry critical energy resources from the Persian Gulf as also provide an economical maritime trade route. The Malacca Strait is witness to heavy maritime traffic and on an average 200 ships pass through this strategic choke point. The marshalling point for the mercantile traffic, entering or leaving the strait, lies in the Andaman Sea. India lies astride this critical sea lane and is therefore strategically located to monitor the entire maritime activity in the area. Any event or contingency in the area or among its maritime littorals, having maritime connotations has direct implications for its security.

Maritime Forces

Among their several missions, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are responsible for maintaining maritime order in the Indian EEZ. They are well equipped in terms of surface ships and maritime aircraft to undertake patrolling and surveillance of the sea areas. The naval forces also include special helicopters for deployment of quick reaction forces, marine commandos, diving teams and damage control units. The Indian Coast Guard has grown over the years and plays a dominant role in policing Indian waters with patrol vessels, interceptor boats and aircraft. In addition marine customs and police forces play an important role in handling criminal acts in and off Indian ports.

Command and Control

The maritime forces are based at various naval and coast guard stations and ports along the east and the west coast of India. Substantial forces are also deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and the Lakshdweep group of islands. The control of naval forces is exercised by the Naval Headquarters through the Flag Officers Commanding-in-Chief based at Mumbai, Kochi and Vishakhapatnam. Similarly, the Coast Guard Headquarters at New Delhi exercises control over coast guard forces through Commander, Coast Guard Region based at Mumbai, Chennai, and Port Blair. Besides, there are Maritime Operation Center (MOC) and Maritime Regional Coordination Centers (MRCC) located at Mumbai, Kochi, Vishakhapatnam and Port Blair. These agencies maintain a constant communication network with maritime forces as also maritime centers located in neighbouring countries including the Piracy Reporting Center at Kuala Lumpur. India is also the coordinator of NAVAREA VIII for broadcasting weather reports, safety messages and other information relating to safety of mariners at sea.

Rules of Engagement

The Indian maritime forces observe strict rules of engagement in accordance with international laws, treaties and conventions. These broadly dictate guidelines for procedures to be followed when investigating suspected ships. These are:- 56

(a) The visit and search to be done with tact and consideration.

(b) True character is to be established by first examining papers and if there is a doubt the crew may be questioned and cargo examined.

(c) If the vessel flees or does not cooperate, she may be pursued and brought to by force, if necessary. A graduated increase in force is to be used till the vessel surrenders. Initial warnings are to be given on the radio and if there is no response, gun shots may be fired across the bows of the ship. The next phase involves firing into the ship to cripple the vessel by aiming at steering position. All efforts must be made to prevent loss of life.

(d) The Commanding Officer is the best judge at the scene of action to decide the quantum of force to be applied. When in doubt, he is to consult his superiors keeping in mind the situation.

Indian Legal Aspects of Piracy

The UNCLOS 1982 covers piracy under Articles 100 to 105. It also confers right of government vessels to search and seize vessels engaged in acts of piracy. The Indian Navy enjoys a unique regulation contained in the Navy Act 1957. 57 This Act was passed by the Indian parliament and defines the term ‘pirate’ in Section 3 Chapter I of the Act as:

‘enemy includes all armed rebels, armed mutineers, armed rioters and pirates and any person in arms against whom it is the duty of any person to act’.

Further, Section 34 states:

‘If the Commanding Officer of a naval vessel fails to pursue the enemy, whom it is his duty to pursue, then the punishment prescribed for him may range from imprisonment extending upto 7 years or if such act is committed to assist the enemy, he may even be punished with death’.

The Regulations for the Navy (REGS, IN) Part I derived from the Navy Act 1957 clearly states:

“If any armed vessel, not having commission as a warship from a recognised government, whether de facto or de jure, should commit piratical acts and outrages against the vessels or goods of India’s citizens or of the subjects of any other foreign power in amity with India, and if credible information should be received thereof, such armed vessel shall be seized and detained by any of Indian naval ships falling in with her, and sent to the nearest Indian port where there is a court of competent jurisdiction for the trial of offences committed on the high seas, together with the necessary witnesses to prove the act or acts and with her master and crew in safe custody, in order that they may be dealt with according to law’.

The above regulations provide clear guidelines to Indian naval vessels while dealing with acts of piracy.

The Case of MV Alondra Rainbow

The standoff between the hijacked MV Alondra Rainbow, a 7000 ton Panama registered vessel, belonging to Japanese owners and an Indian warship in November 1999 disturbed the calm in the Arabian Sea. The vessel was en route from Kuala Tanjung, Indonesia to Milke in Japan. The Piracy Reporting Center of the International Maritime Bureau had announced through a worldwide broadcast that pirates had captured the vessel. According to the Center the crew of the vessel were found safe in Thailand and the vessel was expected to turn up in any Indian port to discharge cargo. What followed was a drama on the high seas leading to the arrest of pirates who are now standing trial in Mumbai.

The above incident clearly highlights the relevance and importance of cooperation and coordination among governments, international agencies and mariners at sea. Some of the important aspects of the operation carried out by the Indian maritime forces against MV Alondra Rainbow are:

(a) Worldwide alert by the Piracy Reporting Center, Kuala Lumpur and NAVAREA VIII.

(b) Prompt siting report by MV AL SHUHADAA, a merchant vessel operating in the west coast of India.

(c) Quick response by Indian maritime security forces.

(d) The importance of maritime air surveillance capability to shadow and track the vessel.

(e) Use of firepower to counter determined hijackers.

(f) Importance of special forces to board vessels and apprehend culprits.

(g) Close cooperation between navy and coast guard.

(h) Close coordination between the PRC, Kuala Lumpur and Indian MRCCs.



Contemporary piracy trends clearly indicate that maritime patrols are most effective to deter piracy. Essentially, greater regional politico-naval cooperation is the only solution to deal with the problem. In addition, maritime courts, diplomatic dialogue and understanding among navies will be yet another positive step in this direction. This could include the following: (a) Intelligence gathering and sharing, (b) Joint surveillance and patrolling (c) Standard format for piracy reporting (d) Training and Education of Naval personnel (e) Agreements to cross over in others territorial waters when engaged in hot pursuit (f) Joint exercises to deter would be attackers (g) Technology Exchange (night vision equipment and high tech communication equipment) (h) Establishment of Naval/Coast Guard anti-piracy center networks and Rescue Centers (i) Regional anti piracy force (j) Maritime INTERPOL.



Note *: Research Fellow, IDSA  Back.

Note 1: Burdic H. Britt and Liselotte B. Watson, International Law for Seagoing Officers, (Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1972), pp. 360-362.  Back.

Note 2: Ibid.  Back.

Note 3: The Law of the Sea, (United Nations: St Martin Press, 1983), pp. 34-35.  Back.

Note 4: Ibid.  Back.

Note 5: DP O’Connel, The International Law of the Sea, vol. II, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 971.  Back.

Note 6: n. 3, p. 34.  Back.

Note 7: Ibid.  Back.

Note 8: O'Connel, pp. 97-98.  Back.

Note 9: ICC International Maritime Bureau, Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, Report for the Period January 1-September 30, 1999, p. 2.  Back.

Note 10: Ibid., p. 4.  Back.

Note 11: ICC International Maritime Bureau, Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, Report for the Period January 1-December 31, 1998, p. 2.  Back.

Note 12: See <> and <htttp://www>  Back.

Note 13: Xinhua (Beijing), “Report on ship attack in Sri Lanka”, FBIS, September 11, 1997.  Back.

Note 14: n. 11, p. 14.  Back.

Note 15: See website of Vantage Systems Inc, Hamilton, MT, Facing the Black Cloud of Piracy: A Captain’s Point of View, p. 9.  Back.

Note 16: n. 11, p. 11.  Back.

Note 17: Ibid., p. 13.  Back.

Note 18: n. 13, p. 2.  Back.

Note 19: Ibid.  Back.

Note 20: Peter Chalk, “Low Intensity Conflict in South East Asia: Piracy, Drug Trafficking and Political Terrorism”, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, p. 4.  Back.

Note 21: Ibid.  Back.

Note 22: Edward G. Agba Koba, The Fight Against Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, at <>  Back.

Note 23: Ibid.  Back.

Note 24: Ibid.  Back.

Note 25: Geoffery Till, “Trouble in Paradise: Maritime Risks and Threats in the Western Pacific,” Special Report No. 7, Jane’s Intelligence Review, p. 7.  Back.

Note 26: Ibid.  Back.

Note 27: See <http://www.icc-org>  Back.

Note 28: Ibid. See ‘ICC launches piracy report on the internet’.  Back.

Note 29: n. 12, p. 11.  Back.

Note 30: See <http//>  Back.

Note 31: Ibid.  Back.

Note 32: n. 12, p. 4.  Back.

Note 33: Ibid.  Back.

Note 34: See <http://www>, Muzi Daily News, July 2, 1999.  Back.

Note 35: See <>, December 16, 1998.  Back.

Note 36: Ibid.  Back.

Note 37: Ibid.  Back.

Note 38: n. 11, p. 17.  Back.

Note 39: Ibid.  Back.

Note 40: n. 34, Muzi Daily News, August 18, 1999.  Back.

Note 41: n. 15, p. 8.  Back.

Note 42: Ibid.  Back.

Note 43: n. 9, p. 12.  Back.

Note 44: n. 34, Muzi Daily News, December 12, 1999.  Back.

Note 45: Ibid.  Back.

Note 46: Chalk, p. 5.  Back.

Note 47: Till, p. 6.  Back.

Note 48: n. 34, Muzi Daily News, March 7, 1999.  Back.

Note 49: n. 9, p. 16.  Back.

Note 50: Ibid., p. 13.  Back.

Note 51: Ibid.  Back.

Note 52: Ibid.  Back.

Note 53: n. 30, see “Response to Piracy".  Back.

Note 54: Till, p. 6.  Back.

Note 55: Henry J. Kenny, An Analysis of Possible Threats to Shipping in Key South East Asian Straits, Virginia: Center for Naval Analysis, p. 10.  Back.

Note 56: Captain R. Sawhney and Commander N.A. Mohan, Role of Indian Navy in Combatting Piracy, Paper presented at IMO Seminar and Workshop on Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships, (Mumbai, India: March 22-24, 2000).  Back.

Note 57: Ibid.  Back.