Maritime Piracy Creating High Risk on the High Seas
by Dennis M. McElwee on July 25, 2012
Long believed to be part of a romantic past, piracy – a term which refers to a range of crimes at sea – continues to flourish around the world, putting travelers in jeopardy and disrupting ocean-going commerce with hijackings, kidnappings, and attacks on ships in international waters. Maritime piracy involves complex issues of local and international law, which generally require the assistance of a maritime lawyer experienced in offshore injury, international legal issues, and other aspects of maritime law.
The increase in acts of piracy against commercial entities and individuals leads some maritime law firms to specialize in handling cases of maritime piracy. A maritime lawyer may represent shipping companies, their crew members, and private citizens in piracy cases, and may also help to conduct ransom negotiations for hijacked ships or kidnapped people.
International maritime piracy affects sea travel and commerce around the world, with the incidence of pirate attacks rising in areas of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. In 2010 alone, 300 acts of piracy took place.
Many widely publicized acts of piracy since 2000 have occurred in the Gulf of Aden, primarily off the coast of Somalia. Other areas of high concern include the waters off the coast of Venezuela, where a number of violent attacks on private vessels have occurred, the Straits of Malacca between Indonesia and Malaysia, and the coast of Malaysia itself.
While the majority of attacks have largely targeted cargo ships, some cruise ships and private yachts have also been victims. Liners owned by major cruise companies were targeted in the Gulf of Aden, and in an assault on a private yacht, two French citizens were kidnapped. In separate attacks on private boats off the Venezuelan coast, one American citizen was severely beaten and another attacked with a machete; an Italian was fatally shot. Off the Malaysian coast, a number of barges and tugboats have been attacked and robbed.
The Cost of Piracy
The economic cost of maritime piracy is staggering. Pirate activity severely disrupts shipping channels, resulting in lost cargo and vessels. Pirates confiscate cargo and sink or burn ships. Ships can be hijacked and held for ransoms of millions of dollars. Crew and passengers can also be kidnapped and held for exorbitant ransoms, or killed.
Negotiations for ransoming ships and people can take months and involve parties from several countries. Maritime insurance rates also rise in response to the potential threat. In some areas, cargo vessels must be escorted by military warships for protection; both the Russian and Japanese navies have dispatched military vessels to provide safe passage to convoys consisting of several ships.
The potential risk to private citizens has prompted several countries to issue travel warnings for those areas with a high level of piracy, with consequences for travel and tourism industries as well as for shipping.
The consequences for piracy vary, depending on the country in which the act is prosecuted, and many acts of piracy are never prosecuted at all. Some courts are overburdened or lacking in laws that can apply. The definition of piracy may also vary. A maritime lawyer with experience in international law and the legal issues pertaining to piracy can help protect commercial shippers and their crews as well as private citizens as they travel through the dangerous waters of the world.
The maritime lawyers of Schechter McElwee Shaffer & Harris L.L.P. have had success in dealing with cases of maritime piracy. Call today to get the help you need in filing a claim.