Academics and Research / News

DU law panel takes on problem of piracy

When it comes to handling pirates, it seems the nations of the world are a little out of practice.

Piracy on the high seas, once considered a relic of history, is back and booming, according to experts gathered March 7 at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law for the panel discussion “Somali Piracy: Legal and Policy Challenges.”

When it comes to stamping out piracy, experts said, the nations of the world are doing it wrong.

The program was hosted by the law school’s Ved Nanda Center on International and Comparative Law in conjunction with Oceans Beyond Piracy, a nongovernmental organization affiliated with One Earth Future Foundation.

The program focused on the growing problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, a country that has existed without an effective government for decades.

Marcel Arsenault, CEO and founder of the One Earth Future Foundation, said nations and companies spent $7 billion on piracy last year, including insurance, labor costs, military operations, security, ransoms, counterpiracy organizations, and the cost of running ships at higher speeds and on alternate routes. All that money attacks the symptom — pirates in boats — while very little goes to the root cause: the absence of law in Somalia, leading to hopelessness, joblessness and poverty, Arsenault said.

Panelist Donna Hopkins, coordinator of counterpiracy and maritime security for the U.S. State Department, said with no effective governance and a very large coastline along popular shipping routes, Somalia provides a unique breeding ground for piracy, which has evolved into a business.

“It’s kidnapping for ransom on an industrial scale,” she said.

The problem with arming merchant ships and pursuing pirates through military ventures is that it ignores the root problems in Somalia, meaning that each year nations will have to repeat the process, panelists agreed.

And even when they do catch pirates, said Commander H. Kimberlie Young, a Navy attorney,  nations are finding it cheaper simply to “catch and release” offenders rather than prosecute and detain them.

Solutions must address the root causes, said Jon Huggins, director of Oceans Beyond Piracy. Otherwise, the globe runs the risk of fatigue, and eventually nations will be worn down and will cease patrols and counterpiracy measures, he said. And without protection, he asked, “How long will seafarers continue to take the risk of traveling through those waters?”

Arsenault agrees. “Without a solution that works for the Somalis, we’re not going to solve the problem. We need to listen to the Somalis. With all due respect, thinking and talking is not enough. Neither is money.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *