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Piracy & the Environment

With the continuing increase of piracy, we are clearly in need of better maritime protection. But beyond bringing piratical acts to justice, steps must also be taken to remedy the root causes that turn people to piracy in the first place.

Pirates are not sea loving adventurers, but often those with no other means of survival on even the most basic level. Many factors contributing to piracy have remained the same, as recruits are brought together by the appalling humanitarian conditions in which they live, coming from nations with financial instability and a lack of central government. Recruits are often young men with no other source of income and no opportunities for growth or educational enrichment. As they all face the same instability, most pirate gangs do not function as autocracies and with few exceptions, gangs do not have riffs with one an other.

Of course, piracy takes more than a crew. But weapons aside, it does not take sophisticated equipment to successfully hi-jack a vessel. Many pirate crews travel in small vessels the size of row boats with motors attached at the back, and use ladders one would find at common hardware stores to board other vessels. Yet, despite such simplicity, even tankers are not safe from all pirate attacks.

Piracy also brings legal difficulties and there have been circumstances when acts of piracy could not be considered such in the literal sense. This is because crimes committed within twelve nautical miles of a nation are considered domestic crimes. There have also been attempts to equate piracy with terrorism. This cannot work, however, as terrorists act on ideology while pirates commit crimes for private gain. Though some attacks are motivated by religious or political intent.

Rather than implementing better policies or protection, many nations are denying to pay ransoms altogether, as giving in to the demands of pirates sends a message that they’ll get paid again the next hi-jacking. Still, by not paying nations are endangering the lives of those who serve them. When ransoms are paid, it is not the result of compassion, but commercial interest as companies wish to have their property returned safely.

Obvious dangers of piratical attacks include the threats to the crews of ships being hi-jacked. These can be unpredictable – as some pirates simply use their victims for ransom and leave them unharmed upon payment, while other pirates kill their victims and commit forcible robbery.

Along with endangering those involved, attacks endanger the environment as well. If a vessel transporting oil was damaged, it may flood into the ocean, causing irreparable damage.

With that said, pirates are not the sole cause of environmental damage in these situations. In many cases, those who are preyed upon by pirates are also predators themselves. As is the case in Somalia, whose waters have been polluted by the overspill of merchant tanks, as well as toxic waste – sometimes even nuclear waste.

In addition to diluting their water with oil and chemicals, foreign ships have depleted Somalia’s ocean of its fish, which is a hard blow for a country with little food and high levels of poverty. To make matters worse, shorelines are not policed, with no coastguards or naval officers, so there is nothing to protect the shores from either pirates or foreign vessels.

We need to make a global effort to help countries like Somalia, who lack central government, gain stability. Only by improving humanitarian conditions and creating a sustainable economy can piracy be eliminated from these countries as the main source of income and survival.

What are your views on maritime security?  Please, share any thoughts, as thoughts have the power to stimulate action.

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