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This article has been written by Diya Banerjee, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. This article explores the close relationship between piracy and maritime terrorism, focussing on the Indian perspective.


Ever wondered if pirates in today’s time also exist? Well yes they do, and they have become a growing cause of concern for countries in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Along with the sea pirates comes the problem of maritime terrorism. They have become one of the most prominent reasons behind the threat of economic loss. 

If we take India into account, it has, since past, had a strategic business advantage when it comes to business via sea routes. Till date, many of the export and import transactions are done through the sea routes. Most of the routes are through the Indian Ocean, infamous for its harsh weather affecting the Southeastern countries and Australia. But it is not the weather that most seafarers are worried about. It is the threat of getting looted and wounded in encounters with the pirates. Somali pirates are infamous for their raids off the coast on the ships going through the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean and so to protect their ships and goods, the Indian Government passed a bill redefining their firm stand to protect their foothold on the sea as well as on land.

The problem also brings forth the comparison of initiatives taken by the South Asian and Southeast Asia countries against the measures taken by the Western countries and other such organizations. It also raises the questions that why is Somalia so involved in piracy, what events caused the youth to get involved in this trade and if it can be changed. 

Somalian links with piracy and maritime terrorism

Somali pirates are notoriously infamous for their piracy attacks, some turning into violent encounters leading to the deaths of quite a few over the years. But how, why and when did the Somali people take piracy as their profession, ever wondered that?

What are maritime piracy and maritime terrorism?

The exact meaning of maritime piracy means the looting, hijacking or detaining of a ship on international waters and maritime terrorism refers to any act of terror on international waters with political ends. Even though both these terms and acts are closely tied together, they are not the same because it is possible for maritime terrorists to become pirates but it is not so otherwise. Piracy is done essentially to loot with little to no intention of killing, while terrorism includes not only the need to injure or kill but also a political element. Piracy is done for a bigger cause such as to feed the poor of a certain region while terrorism is simply a means to achieve selfish political agendas. 

How did Somalia come into the picture?

Have you heard of the ongoing Somali civil war? It has been going on since the 1980s and is one of the primary reasons behind piracy becoming a trade for Somali youth. 

Before the outbreak of the war, Somalia had a very rich marine stock and the then Government had launched a program to develop the agricultural and fisheries, employing many from the poor rural sector. With the war, the central government collapsed and the Somali Navy disbanded. Seeing no protection for the Somali waters, foreign industries started to exploit the richness of the waters with all the industrial waste being generated getting dumped in the Somali lands. This, of course, resulted in the depletion of the fertile Somali land and deterioration of the natural marine and fish stock. The poor men who were till now somehow sustaining with their business of agriculture and fisheries again got pushed into poverty, the conditions became much worse with the war draining even the little resource left behind. 

Compelled by the circumstances, the men resorted to using violent tactics to take over the ships which were coming into the coast. Seeing the flow of profits into their communities, piracy became their sole source of income, adapting with the changing times to continue this nuisance. 

What is the reason behind this kind of plundering?

The reason why the Somali piracy has continued till date is the perpetual state of poverty in Somalia. The youth have no other way to invest their energy. Indulging into acts of piracy not only works as a distraction from their saddening conditions but also helps to bring in some cash. Therefore, it can be said that the main motive behind piracy off the coast of Somalia is an economic reason. If only there would have been a scope of employment in Somalia other than becoming a part of the war and weapon industry, then maybe the economic needs of the Somali youth could be met by bringing them out of the cycle of poverty and providing proper employment opportunities due to which the cases of Somali pirates hijacking and looting ships could be brought down. 

But the reason why the world is so worried about Somali pirates is not that their reasons for looting are due to poor economic facilities, but because as per 2013 figures, their loots cost an economic loss of $18 billion on an average, which may have gone down in the last few years but is still a significant cause of global economic trade slowdown. 

The Gulf of Aden 

The Gulf of Aden is of huge advantage and importance to the global economy because it is through this sea route that 11% of the seaborne petroleum contributing to the total global economy, which is Persian Gulf oil, gets shipped to Suez Canal and regional refineries, from where it is exported to other countries. The value of oil is invaluable and so is the oil market, which has been getting more and more competitive by the day. Somalia is located to the south of the Gulf, making it an easy target for pirate attacks. 

In the late 2000s, it emerged as a hub for pirate activities. By 2013, the pirate attacks had steadily declined due to the active deployment of private security activities and international naval patrolling. India also has its own warship protecting the region because it exports and imports billions of dollars worth of international trade, making it an important focal point of its booming economy. 

The case of Madagascar and around

Madagascar has been a prime location for pirates because of its strategic geological location at the point where the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. While in ancient times, the cases of piracy started in the region because of the hospitality of the people of Madagascar and their willingness to trade with them. Another reason was because of the lack of presence of Europeans. All trading with pirates and their intervention stopped after Madagascar became a French Colony in 1896. 

In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of piracy-related cases because of the outbreak in Somali pirates. The East African and West Indian Ocean are the high-risk areas because that is where most of the Somali pirate attacks took place till 2011 with the average number of attacks being 170 for the years from 2007-2011, only ever increasing even with the presence of naval ships for guarding. In the year 2011 alone the global economic loss faced was nearly $6.6 to $6.9 billion. 

Two cases, both of which happened in the year 2010, prove that Madagascar is probably one of the worst affected by Somali piracy and armed robbery. 

  • The Felicity Case: in this case, after locking up and looting the ship of all its quantities of rice, beans, sugar, etc., the pirates had deported the crewmen and used the ship as their mother ship to further carry out their pirate rendezvous. 
  • The M/V Zoulficar Case: this is one of those piracy and armed robbery cases which included charges of piracy, manslaughter, violence, assault, and battery along with attempted rape. The ship after being seized by the pirates, one of them being a minor, was also used as a mother ship to plunder other ships. One of the chief engineers of the ship was killed in the open fire by the pirates and the others were held hostage for 5 months before being found. 

Even though the threat of piracy and armed robberies, which at times qualifies as maritime terrorist acts, are increasing, the approach to criminalizing the acts is quite generic even under the international law provisions. However, there are provisions under the Law of the Sea Convention, 1982 and the Convention of the High Seas, 1958 along with Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, 1988 which have been in use and applied to penalize acts of piracy to the extent to which they are not contrary to the provisions of the respective maritime zone. 

South and Southeast Asian standpoint

In the South Asia and Southeast Asia, in the last few years, three major developments have redefined the possible future of international trade and the ways to tackle the problem of maritime disruptive activities of piracy and terrorism. 

Indian developments

India’s SAGAR

India’s Security and Growth for All Region program is aimed to bring in and maintain stability in the disturbed Indian Ocean region against activities including maritime piracy and terrorism. It also provides a platform for India to resolve maritime issues as well as contribute to maritime cooperation with regional actors like Madagascar and Mauritius, further enabling to maintain cross-border trade and keep disruptive disruptions off the bay.
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The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019

The Anti-Maritime Piracy Bill, 2019 is a bill introduced in the Lok Sabha for prevention against the acts of maritime piracy and allowing persecution of persons related to such acts. It has strict rules as to the punishment one is to receive if found to be involved in maritime piracy acts, which also includes provision for death penalty. The move to introduce such a bill came after a ship with 18 crew members aboard was seized and the crew was kidnapped. While provisions against armed robbery and admiralty jurisdictions of certain courts have been invoked to penalize those apprehended by the Indian Navy and Coast guard, the absence of a specific law makes the entire process of trying the perpetrators a tiring and a frustrating job. This bill will fulfill the legal requirements needed not only to protect India’s maritime trade but also to ensure the safety of the crew on the ships. 

India and the Philippines joint security force

The Philippines has emerged as another target for pirate activity and maritime terrorism because of the economy’s reliance on agriculture and fisheries, prompting steady development along the coastal areas to propel international trade further. 

In trade relations, the relationship between India and the Philippines has a lot of room to develop but the build-up has already begun with both the countries being agrarian based economies and pushing their marine business into the international domain. But we are all aware of the terrorist activities India is subjected to on land. This has extended to international waters as well. And the Philippines has a good amount of cases when it comes to maritime piracy. A combination of these two elements puts the trade relations between both the countries in a compromising position. 

To enable ease of business with as little intervention as possible, India and the Philippines entered into a bilateral agreement to combat maritime piracy and terrorism, including aspects of tourism and technology. 

Indonesian outlook

As per the information of the International Maritime Organization and International Maritime Bureau, in the Southeast region, Indonesia has had the most encounters with pirates. However, there has been a fall of about 76.7% since 2015 in the number of pirate attacks with respect to the actual and attempted attacks of armed robbery on ships. The Indonesian Maritime Police and the specialized team of Western Fleet Quick Response Task Force Team have helped in thinning the attacks on the Indonesian ships, securing the ease to carry out international trade. 

Any relief from piracy and maritime terrorism?

While maritime piracy and terrorism are yet to find a place in international law provisions, there have been plenty of military and naval initiatives that have been taken by few countries, joining hands to secure their freedom of global maritime commerce. Some of the initiatives also include organizations like the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Combined Maritime Force 151

It is a 33-nation naval initiative to counter and suppress maritime piracy attacks along with strengthening relations with other regional partners to enable freedom of navigation and protect international maritime commerce. It is one of the three maritime operations under the Combined Maritime Forces which works in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions.

Operation Atlanta

It is formally known as the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia which focuses on the piracy activities off the coast of Somalia. It also monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia and lends its support to CMF 151 and NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, along with the EU’s other individual missions aiming to reinforce the maritime security of the region. 

Operation Ocean Shield

It is a NATO driven initiative to contribute to the program Operation Enduring Freedom- Horn of Africa, an anti-piracy initiative in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This initiative helped in strengthening and reinforcing the skills required to counter piracy attacks in the contributing states, which included the Indian Navy after the US Navy. However, since its conclusion in 2016, piracy attacks were again observed in 2017, though lesser in number. 


There have been many ship raids by the Somali pirates, most of them were not successful but were enough to become a challenge against which proper legal and practical protection was needed. In the recent 2019 Bill passed by the Lok Sabha, it became clear that the Indian Government is serious to take precautionary measures to combat the threat of maritime piracy, even if the chances of successful raids are low. 

Similarly, other nations have joined hands with each other to take up global measures to enable a better global trading platform via sea routes but the challenge is, the global measures that the countries have taken are limited to their regional interest and benefit. This proves maritime terrorism and piracy to be difficult under international law. 

Operations introduced by NATO were successful but time-bound. And after its conclusion, such activities were again noticed. This is a fact check that a lot more has to be done to make it possible for maritime international issues to be addressed, but first, the conditions of the Somali youth have to be corrected, or else whatever steps are taken, all of them will fall to a zero in practice. 


  • Piracy in Asia: A situation report
  • Indonesia – number of piracy attacks 2019
  • Møller, B. (2009). Piracy, maritime terrorism and naval strategy (No. 2009: 02). DIIS Report.
  • Abhijit Singh, “Maritime Terrorism in Asia: An Assessment”, ORF Occasional Paper No. 215, October 2019, Observer Research Foundation.
  • Piracy, maritime terrorism and regional interests.Major Frederick Chew, Singapore-Navy
  • Joubert, Lydelle. (2013). THE EXTENT OF MARITIME TERRORISM AND PIRACY: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS. Scientia Militaria : South African Journal of Military Studies

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