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July 15th, 2011

Maritime Piracy Interferes with Collection of Scientific Data

Over the past few years, as fishing vessels, cargo ships and other types of vessels avoid any travel in the Indian Ocean because of the threat of pirate attacks, it is not just the global economy that has suffered.  Collection of scientific data which has traditionally depended on the movement of vessels in these waters has also been impacted.

The waters in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea are used by special scientific vessels that gather data on everything from wind and water movements and fish populations to currents and studies of the earth’s crust.  These vessels are usually sponsored by universities and governments.

However, these data collection efforts have been devastated by the still ongoing problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean.  Pirate attacks have not declined in this part of the world.  Rather, they have only increased.  Piracy is especially rampant off the coast of Somalia.  Insurance companies now demand special policies for any cargo vessel or fishing vessel that sails closer to 1,000 miles off Somalia’s coastline.  That has made it expensive even for those maritime companies that don’t mind the risk and wish to sail here.

Some research vessels have actually been targeted by pirates.  A Seychelles-flagged contract research vessel was hijacked by pirates in 2009.  Eventually, the crewmembers were released after ransom was paid, but the Pirates destroyed the ship.  Pirates have also destroyed a number of research buoys in these waters.

It’s hard for maritime lawyers to list out more reasons why we need to wipe out the piracy scourge.  The continuing threat to the lives and safety of seamen, the impending destruction of livelihoods and local economies, and now, the revelation that scientific research dependent on vessels in these waters, is floundering – piracy continues to take an unimaginable toll.

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