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Chatham House: Pirates and How to Deal With Them

Author: Roger Middleton
April 22, 2009

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This briefing note, drawing on a meeting of a roundtable of experts held at Chatham House on 26 February 2009 by the Africa Programme and the International Law Discussion Group, clarifies some of the legal concerns around combating piracy off the Somali coast.

Excerpt: In 2008, piracy off the coast of Somalia went from being an irritation to a major global concern.1 Now navies from at least 17 states, organized around three multinational taskforces, are patrolling Somalia's seas. So far in 20092, 79 ships have been attacked and 19 ships and their crews taken hostage. Pirates captured by various states' navies are standing trial in Puntland, Kenya, France and the Netherlands. Navies have had some success in their primary aim of disrupting piratical activity and the success rates for pirate attacks has dropped from around 1 in 3 to about 1 in 4. However, as well-publicized cases of pirates being released after capture have demonstrated, there are perceived to be legal constraints on the action of some states and confusion about the legal powers of others.

The meeting focused on legal issues concerning the arrest and prosecution of pirates. Other legal concerns such as payment of ransom money to pirates and the use of private security firms are not addressed here.

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