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Maritime Security and Pirate Activity Case Study

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Updated: Aug 8th, 2020


The issue of the decline of maritime security has resurfaced as a major concern in recent years, primarily due to the increase in pirate activity in some regions, such as the Gulf of Aden. While the sources on the topic demonstrate a good grasp of the reasons for the phenomenon and describe several scenarios for improvement, the suggested measures are fairly limited, with the creation of the self-protection measures being the most viable one.

Despite being exhaustively discussed by some experts, the topic notably lacks systematic feedback from the affected parties. The following case study thus aims at merging this gap and possibly obtaining new information required for the decisive arguments on the topic or providing insights missed by the previous researchers.

Literature Review

Emergence and reasons

The issue of maritime security has recently resurfaced as an important topic. While the phenomenon of piracy was noticeable throughout the twentieth century, the two recent decades have seen a considerable increase in piracy activities in several areas, including East Africa, Middle East, Asia, Pacific, and, most notably, the Gulf of Aden (Bureau of Consular Affairs n.pag.).

The latter is currently the most recognizable occurrence which has surfaced around 2008 and has been growing in magnitude since. The growing number of authorities react by creating lists of areas posing a threat to transportation routes, which currently list Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, and Venezuela (U.S. Department of State para. 1). The attempts to assess the dynamics of the phenomenon usually indicate the tendency towards the increase of the number and ferocity of attacks.

For example, according to the data from the International Maritime Security, the incidence of pirate attacks was 47 in 2010 and has risen to 61 in 2011 (Bridger para. 2). In 2012, while the numbers have decreased back to 42, the total number of hostages taken during the attacks has reached 168 (Bridger para. 2). The breadth of the scope has also increased dramatically, reaching Benin, Ghana, Togo, the Ivory Coast in 2012 from the initial relatively modest area of Nigeria and Niger.

The statistics of pirate-related activity in other areas, such as Asia and the Pacific, have been considerably less alarming, indicating a visible decline from 25 registered attacks in 2004 through 10 in 2005 to 2 in 2008 (U.S. Department of State para. 11). Nevertheless, the issue has not been eradicated in those areas, and the overall picture is not showing the tendency towards improvement.

The experts in the field point to several possible reasons for the recent spike of piracy on the African West coast. The first factor is the increase in the number of commercial vessels traversing the area, coupled with the presence of the locales favorable to ambush the ships, such as the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz, as well as Canals of Panama and Suez (Sakellaridou 8).

At the same time, the security measures directed at the maritime segment have gradually decreased – mainly because of the shift of focus towards the land-based measures triggered primarily by the terrorist attacks of September 11 (Chalk 2). As the security measures are considerably expensive, the cost-cutting eventually impacts the maritime segment. The same economic considerations have affected the staffing of the vessels. The crews of the ships have decreased in numbers over time, partially due to the possibilities granted by the automated navigation systems.

However, this has impaired the security capabilities of the vessel (Chalk 2). Finally, the political situation in the countries associated with maritime piracy has allegedly been favorable: the corruption of maritime officials leads to the leaks of sensitive information and grants pirates possibilities to obtain information on the ships’ locations as well as channels to dispose of the stolen goods (Chalk 3). As none of the stated reasons is likely to considerably change in the observable future, it is reasonable to expect the piracy-associated activities to persist or even increase over time.

Current response

The insecurity associated with piracy has already triggered several responses by authorities and changes in maritime policies. Most notably, the shipping companies have responded to the growing risk of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden by altering the commercial routes moving to the Cape of Good Hope (Kraska 111b). Such a move has created some undesirable effects.

First, the time needed for a single shipment has risen by one week. This not only compromised the economic efficiency of services but have added the cost of labor, supplies, and fuel required to cover a longer travel distance. Second, the increased time has led to a lower number of possible routes. While the change has led to some benefits, such as the absence of high-risk insurance rates and the charge for passing the Suez Canal, the net result is still unfavorable. The state authorities have also issued several policies aimed at the increases in deterrence capabilities.

Some of the states and parties have dispatched naval vessels to the most high-risk states. Most notably, NATO had deployed its naval assets to the Somalia coastal areas starting from 2008 and ongoing throughout 2012, when several defense vessels were dispatched to escort the ships of the World Food Program and the African Union (Jopling para. 28). These operations have been proven successful in deterring and defending from the pirates active in the region.

Also, several attempts have been made by different parties to establish bilateral treaties aimed at addressing the issue. The most notable example is the cooperation between Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia aimed at confronting the threat emerging in the Straits of Malacca (Brazier para. 12). The decrease in the piracy-associated activity of these regions mentioned above can at least partially be attributed to the joint efforts of the countries.

A similar policy has been suggested to the Economic Community of the West African States or Economic Community of the Central African States, which would allegedly allow for improved intelligence capabilities as well as a joint naval force able of providing the required level of security (Bridger para. 5). Unfortunately, the current state of most of the parties interested in such cooperation is insufficient to produce a formidable fleet able to cover the high-risk area. Besides, in response to the changes made by the shipping companies, the pirates have expanded the area of coverage to up to 1000 miles from the shore, and the frequency of attacks. As a result, the naval forces patrolling the high-risk areas report the inability to effectively uphold the security standards.

The amends to the legal system aimed at the improved response to piracy has also been observed. An initiative, known as Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, is currently underway in the European Union. It will oblige the coastal members to prosecute the offenders engaged in maritime piracy, as currently, the gaps and complications in the legal systems of different parties hamper the possibilities for punitive measures.

It is worth noting that in addition to the already complicated setting the pirates have demonstrated flexibility in responding to the majority of the measures taken by the parties, which in some cases have proven to be successful enough to improve their chances against capture. Such a tendency must be considered when new measures are developed and implemented.

Suggested solutions

Aside from the formation of the bilateral and regional treaties mentioned above, several major directions have been suggested to minimize the insecurities associated with the issue. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has suggested enhancing the economic stability in the high-risk regions which will eventually result in better opportunities for the groups currently forced to resort to illicit activities as the only solution for the poor financial state (Munson para. 3).

In the long run, this will result in the decline of piracy activities. However, the process is likely to be lengthy and will not impact the issue directly. Besides, it requires the economic support of the external parties. Thus, it should be viewed as a favorable outcome of an indirectly relevant event rather than a viable solution to the problem.

The ICG report has also mentioned a buildup of defensive capabilities of the impacted states by expanding and strengthening navies as a solution to the issue. Such a measure would result in better defense and deterrence capabilities against pirates, as was exemplified by the NATO activities discussed above. However, such measures require significant funding which, given the current economic state of the countries in question, is not likely to be available. Another weak point of such an approach lies in the tactics utilized by pirates.

The most common course of action during the pirate attack includes boarding the ship and taking the crew and passengers hostages, which severely limits the choice of countermeasures by the Navy. Besides, given the time required for the naval vessel to respond to the distress signal, the likelihood of the successful deterrence decreases, as the current area of pirate activity can not be possibly covered by the available forces (Munson para. 4). This essentially means that the crew of the ship under attack is left on their own at least during the initial phase.

The third, and currently the most popular option is the creation of the means of self-defense and deference of the pirates by the ship crews. Considering the shortcomings and limitations of the previous suggestions, such a suggestion is the most favorable one in terms of cost efficiency and flexibility. The two possible approaches for this solution are arming the crew and hiring the team specializing in security services (Ploch, Blanchard, O’Rourke, Mason, ad King 36). While being the most favorable of currently available solutions, it has sparked an ongoing debate that has not been conclusively settled.

Considerations of vessel self-protection

The proponents of the armed maritime security have pointed to several advantages of the approach. First, it guarantees an immediate response. As was mentioned earlier, the defense ships are most efficient in naval combat, and pirates take advantage of this by boarding the captured ship and creating a hostage situation. The presence of arms on the ship under attack may successfully deter the offense and provide the crew with extra time often required for the navy to arrive.

Unfortunately, the self-defense concept has its controversies as well. For instance, some of the critics have noted that the armed resistance will likely trigger the escalation of violence, as the pirates will use more aggressive techniques to overcome armed defense (Ploch et al. 37). Another difficulty is the growing availability of firearms: the pirates have already demonstrated on several occasions that their armament is usually sufficient or superior to the defense they are facing.

Aside from conventional small arms, they are already known to possess the anti-ship mines, handheld mortars, and rocket-propelled grenades (Chalk 3), and they are expected to expand their arsenal once the need to overcome resistance arises, given the resources they have at their disposal and the presence of shadow markets in the areas where they operate. To counter this possible outcome, the use of non-lethal and second-lethal tactics has been suggested as a way to decrease violence (Mark and Mark 3).

However, given the flexibility and adaptability shown by the pirates in the past in the changing setting, it is unlikely that such an approach will produce a long-term result. Once the offenders notice the limitations of the tactics exercised by the defenders, they will immediately circumvent them in their favor. Another possible weakness is the lack of firearm training among the crew members.

Coupled with the limitations of armament mentioned above, the team of untrained defense will not only be of questionable use in a successful deterrence but may also face additional threats, which will result in excessive casualties. Besides, some authors have considered the safety of cargo to be compromised in such a setting (Ploch et al. 37). The prolonged firefight not only raises the risk of damaging the goods but introduces the possibility of fire on a vessel, which is a major safety concern. In the case when the cargo presents additional environmental hazards, such as a tanker carrying flammable liquids or crude oil, the concern becomes a viable threat.

Finally, financial difficulties need to be considered. The armament and training of the crew, not to mention the hiring of a professional team providing defense services may be a serious burden for the owners, and in some cases may prove more expensive than the ransom paid to the attackers (Ploch et al. 37).


The review of the literature allows for several conclusions. The decline of maritime security associated with a pirate activity is currently a serious threat, and, considering the reasons for the emergence of the phenomenon it is likely to persist in some areas, such as the Gulf of Aden, at least in the nearest future. Of the possible solutions suggested by different sources, the creation of the armed security appears to be the most feasible option.

Nevertheless, some concerns have been voiced regarding it which introduces uncertainty to the field. However, the views of the interested parties – the crews of the vessels passing through the high-risk areas – remain unexplored. The following case study thus aims at merging the gap in the literature by providing such feedback. This will not only expand the understanding of the issue, but may provide additional decisive arguments and, as a result, resolve the debate on the need for the armed security. Additionally, it may highlight several insights on the approach to the problem, overlooked by the previous researchers and important for the successful introduction of the measure.


To find out the public perception of the current state of the maritime security and assess the arguments for and against the armament of the commercial vessels which fall under the threat of the pirate attack, the case study approach will be utilized. This approach allows collecting the broad range of data relevant for the study without facing the limitations of the quantitative data collection methods (Yin 32). More importantly, it broadens the scope of the inquiry by highlighting the reasons behind each response and outlining the context which may play an important role in the understanding of the issue.

In this particular case, the views of the respondents can be altered by their attitude towards applying force, considerations of personal safety, and previous experience (or lack thereof) of dealing with piracy phenomenon. For this reason, both the interview and the questionnaires include the large sections devoted to detailing their choices. Also, the interview, while being scripted initially, allows for flexibility and thus has the capacity for additional unstructured clarifications and in-depth inquiries (Alston and Bowles 95).

As the study targets a specific and well-defined phenomenon, it is considered bound by definition (Stake 46). Additionally, it is bound by time and activity, but not bound by place as the sample of the study needs to be broad enough to include a significant portion of data (Yin 51). The case study is exploratory: while the data collection methods target a certain issue, the set of outcomes is not predetermined, which allows it to overview multiple aspects of the phenomenon rather than focus on defining its single attribute (Yin 112).

The questionnaires and interviews are constructed to collect the data in a holistic manner rather than several single-case studies, which removes certain time restrictions. The target sample of the interviews consists of the four captains of the commercial vessels which are or have been in the past routed through the areas associated with the risk of piracy to assure the relevance of the topic and partial involvement in the question. Thus, the data selection method utilized for the case study is a purposeful one.

The questionnaire sample will consist of the crews under the command of the said captains. Additionally, three naval captains will be interviewed to provide an angle from the military personnel. The sailors from their ships will also take part in questionnaire completion. To assure the equal size of the questionnaire sample, 50 crew members will be selected from each side using a simple randomization tool. To maintain ethics is common with the case study approach, the data analysis process will tale place concurrent with the collection.

The exploratory nature of the study suggests direct interpretation as a means of data analysis (Yin 42). Such type of analysis is relatively simple and does require complex coding techniques. Besides, such type is consistent with the planned interview spans and when done appropriately saves time at the latter stages.

It should also be noted that due to the unstructured nature of the interviews the return to propositions needs to be constantly practiced to exclude deviations from the scope of the study (Stake 18). Finally, once the data is gathered, it will be converted to form an appropriate and concise conclusion on the initial case to avoid the uncertainties and deviations from the original goals.

Works Cited

Alston, Margaret and Wendy Bowles. Research for Social Workers: An Introduction to Methods. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Brazier, David. Hostage to a Fortune: International Piracy on the Somali Sea Lanes. UN Chronicle, 2012.

Bridger, James. The World’s Most Violent Pirates, 2014.

Bureau of Consular Affairs. International Maritime Piracy. U.S. Department of State, No Date.

Chalk, Peter. Maritime Piracy: Reasons, Dangers, and Solutions. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2009.

Jopling, Lord. 207 Cds 10 E bis – Maritime Security: NATO and EU Roles and Co-ordination. NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 2012.

Kraska, James. “Freakonomics of Maritime Piracy.” Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol.XVI, Iss. II, (2010), pp.109-119b.

Mark, Chris and Heather Mark. Maritime Security Series: To Arm or Not to Arm: A Rational Analysis of Deterrence Theory in Modern Piracy. Sagebrook Research, 2010.

Munson, Mark. An International Response to Maritime Insecurity in the Gulf of Guinea, 2014.

Ploch, Lauren, Christopher M. Blachard, Ronald O’Rourke, R. Chuck Mason, and Rawle O. King. Piracy Off the Horn of Africa. CSR Report for Congress, 2011.

Sakellaridou, Stella. Maritime Insurance and Piracy. Athens, Greece: National & Kapodistrian University of Athens Law School, 2009.

Stake, Robert. The Art of Case Study Research, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2003. Print.

U.S. Department of State. International Maritime Piracy. Travel.State.Gov.

Yin, Robert. Case Study Research: Design and Methods, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2003. Print.

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