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  • Mallika Chadha

Piracy in the 21st Century: Legal Considerations and Global Responses

By: Mallika Chadha, a second year B.A.LL.B, studying at Lovely Professional University


In today’s yardstick, where everything has evolved and is still centring it’s focal point of analysis in the process of leaving no stone unturned to sharpen further in accordance to the modern needs and desires of the community at large, there exists a complete distinct situation under which darkness has overpowered all the light of advancement. Amidst all such remarkable shifts in tech and industrial gains, there emerges an audacious rise of a relic from the past which has been highly rooted in our lives since childhood through the facilitation of all the fascinating stories and action movies where the genre was heavily based on pirates sailing their ships and plundering the treasure of masses during their iconic sea routes.

As interesting it may have seemed in the past through fiction, Piracy has caused much trouble in reality and is stirring up much more difficulty in the contemporary era than it did in the past. In an age where globalization has garnered support from all over the world and has consistently fostered effective changes with addition of widespread prosperity. The bane of Piracy has equally evolved and is relentlessly growing in the pursuit of causing more weaknesses while dodging old defensive techniques, symbolizing as a modern age bane.

This blog will be dealing with the modern age problems which are being sprawled all over by Piracy- an unlawful act. Additionally, a detailed analysis of the legal framework which needs to undergo change in order to tackle this dangerous threat will be discussed in the following pages.



IN LAYMAN’s LANGUAGE: Fundamentally, piracy describes violent or robbery acts carried out at sea. In the past, people who attacked ships, stole cargo, and frequently kidnapped crews for ransom were known as pirates. But in the current era, piracy has broadened to include more illegal operations, such as cyberattacks against marine infrastructure, armed robberies, and takeover of ships. This evolution shows how flexible piracy is as it takes advantage of new chances brought forth by changes in the global environment and technical advancements.

LEGAL PERSPECTIVE: Piracy is defined and governed by international law, most notably under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). According to UNCLOS Article 101, piracy involves any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft. This definition highlights the international community's commitment to combatting piracy and underscores the importance of cooperation between states in enforcing maritime security and prosecuting pirates. As we delve deeper into the legal dimensions of piracy, we will explore the various international laws, conventions, and treaties that shape the framework for addressing this persistent global challenge.



Piracy has a long and storied history, dating back to ancient times. Over the centuries, piracy has evolved in response to changing economic, political, and technological landscapes, shaping its manifestations and impact on maritime trade and security.

Ancient Roots: The earliest records of piracy can be traced back to the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, where pirates targeted merchant ships and coastal settlements. These pirates, often referred to as sea raiders, plundered valuable cargo and enslaved captives, contributing to the destabilization of maritime trade routes in the ancient world.

Golden Age of Piracy (17th-18th centuries): The Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean saw a spike in piracy during the Golden Age of Piracy, which lasted from the late 17th to the early 18th century. Legends were created by legendary pirates like Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, and Anne Bonny, who terrified navy and commerce ships with their audacious raids and adventures. Strongholds of pirates, such Nassau in the Bahamas, and the emergence of pirate codes dictating pirate behaviour and government defined the period.

Decline and Resurgence (in the 20th Century): ): As a result of enhanced maritime security measures, expanded naval patrols, and the creation of international treaties and rules governing marine activity, piracy declined in the late 19th and early 20th century. But in the later part of the 20th century, political unrest, economic hardship, and insufficient marine governance gave rise to a resurgence of piracy in areas like Southeast Asia, the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Guinea.



The core principles of international law and marine security are under threat from piracy, which has become a major worry as we negotiate the complexity of the twenty-first century. The progression of piracy from conventional maritime attacks to intricate cyber operations is indicative of the versatility of criminal networks and the pressing requirement for revised regulatory frameworks to properly counter these ever-changing threats.

With pirates using digital weaknesses to target vital marine infrastructure, cyber piracy has grown to be a prominent focus point in the contemporary piracy scene. Cyberattacks of this nature have the potential to cause major problems, including the disruption of international supply chains, the compromise of private information, and the jeopardization of maritime operations. Due to the international character of cyber piracy, states must work together to establish clear rules of jurisdiction, attribution, and enforcement in the digital sphere. This creates unique legal issues.

Furthermore, the renewed activity of pirates in important marine areas including Southeast Asia, the Gulf of Guinea, and the Gulf of Aden emphasises the intricate interactions between environmental, socioeconomic, and geopolitical elements that sustain piracy. A comprehensive legal strategy that tackles the causes as well as the symptoms of piracy is required in these areas because poor maritime governance, unstable political environments, and economic hardships provide an ideal environment for piracy to thrive.

International law needs to change in response to these difficulties in order to adequately address the complexities of contemporary piracy. A comprehensive legal approach aimed at preventing piracy and guaranteeing maritime stability in today's linked world must include strengthening legal frameworks, improving cooperation in maritime security, supporting capacity-building efforts, and promoting international discourse. In addition, tackling the changing nature of piracy requires strengthening intelligence collaboration and information sharing between states and marine organisations.

Effective responses to emerging threats can be coordinated and timely data and intelligence exchanged by developing strong communication channels and collaboration frameworks. This proactive strategy highlights the value of teamwork in preserving maritime security by enhancing our joint capacity to track, discourage, and combat piracy operations.


However, despite decades of efforts, the international community has always faced the issue of combating piracy. The legal framework and collective reaction to marine security concerns have been significantly shaped over time by international laws and conventions, chief among them the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Adopted in 1982 and coming into effect in 1994, UNCLOS offers a thorough legal framework that regulates every facet of ocean space, including maritime piracy. According to UNCLOS Article 101, piracy is any unlawful act of assault, detention, or depredation carried out on the high seas against another ship, aircraft, or person for personal benefit by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft.

States are primarily accountable under UNCLOS for maintaining maritime security and fighting piracy inside their territorial seas. To effectively combat piracy outside national borders, however, increased international coordination and collaboration are necessary due to the transnational character of piracy. UNCLOS makes it easier for states to work together in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of piracy, including the capture and punishment of suspected pirates, by giving them a legal framework.

Apart from UNCLOS, other global legal frameworks, like the conventions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Djibouti Code of Conduct, have played a crucial role in promoting regional collaboration and enhancing capacity-building endeavours aimed at improving maritime security and countering piracy in areas vulnerable to piracy.

In addition, the employment of private maritime security firms, industry-led programmes like Best Management Practices (BMP), and naval patrols have all helped to lower the number of piracy occurrences and guarantee the security of maritime commerce routes.

Thus, in order to effectively combat this ongoing threat, piracy has thus far been controlled through a collaborative effort that makes use of international laws, treaties, and cooperative initiatives. Despite the notable advancements, maintaining constant watchfulness, cooperation, and flexible approaches are crucial for protecting maritime safety and guaranteeing the liberty of passage in the intricate and linked marine landscape of today.


The Role of Maritime Security Operations: The continuous efforts to prevent piracy and protect the integrity of maritime commerce routes depend heavily on maritime security operations. Deterrents against pirate operations include naval patrols, combined marine exercises, and coordinated surveillance efforts, which offer a visible presence and the ability to respond quickly to threats. These operations, which are carried out by nations both autonomously and in cooperation with regional and international partners, are essential for improving marine security and stabilising areas   that   are   vulnerable   to   piracy. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) claims that the deployment of maritime security operations has made a substantial contribution to the decrease in piracy incidents in a few high- risk regions.

For instance, the Gulf of Aden, once a hotspot for pirate attacks, has seen a notable reduction in piracy incidents due to increased naval patrols and international naval cooperation efforts. Furthermore, cooperative maritime exercises, like the yearly multinational naval drills held in the Gulf of Guinea and the Western Indian Ocean, help member nations strengthen their capabilities and exchange information. These drills not only improve naval forces' operational readiness but also promote solidarity and collaboration among the region's citizens in tackling issues related to maritime security.

Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs): An important change in the marine security scene has been the rise of Private marine Security Companies (PMSCs), which provide a proactive and successful defence against pirate attacks. By deploying highly skilled and armed security teams, PMSCs are able to prevent and resist pirate attacks, protecting sailors, cargo, and vessels from possible harm. The employment of PMSCs has been crucial in lowering pirate events by as much as 80% in some piracy-prone locations, according to a research by the Oceans Beyond pirate (OBP) project. Having armed security guards on board has shown to be a powerful deterrent against pirate attacks, greatly enhancing the security and safety of maritime trade routes.

The use of PMSCs does, however, also present certain legal and regulatory issues that call for thorough thought and supervision. To guarantee that PMSCs behave responsibly and lawfully, strong legislative frameworks and rules are needed, taking into account concerns about the use of force, compliance with international laws and regulations, and obligation issues.

International organisations have responded to these challenges by developing best practices and guidelines for the use of PMSCs, such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS). The objective of these initiatives is to standardise the operations of PMSCs and guarantee compliance with international laws and regulations.

It is therefore obvious to observe that the contribution of PMSCs and maritime security operations to the fight against piracy and the maintenance of maritime security cannot be emphasised. The international community can effectively tackle the ongoing menace of piracy and preserve the safety and security of international marine trade routes by utilising these proactive methods in conjunction with international collaboration, capacity building, and legislative frameworks.




Foundational Importance of Human Expertise: The fundamental significance of human expertise lies in the fact that people are the cornerstone of maritime security, influencing the effectiveness, flexibility, and durability of security protocols in the face of constantly changing international threats. The successful implementation and enforcement of marine security procedures are mostly driven by human skills, experience, and commitment rather than technology developments or legislative frameworks. The need for specialised knowledge in fields like risk assessment, intelligence analysis, and crisis management grows as maritime activities diversify and intensify. This emphasises the indispensable role that human judgement and intuition play in navigating the complexities of maritime security operations.

Elevating Training and Professional Development: The enhancement of the competencies of maritime workers can only be achieved via the investment in comprehensive training and professional development activities. These courses offer specific training in threat assessment, crisis management, technology use, and regulatory compliance, guaranteeing that participants have the necessary abilities to successfully negotiate challenging maritime conditions. Employees are further empowered to hone their abilities, rise to new challenges, and maintain the highest standards of professional behaviour through chances for ongoing learning, practical training exercises, and simulation-based scenarios, all of which support the human-centric approach to maritime security.

Strengthening Inter-Agency Coordination and Collaboration: To develop a coherent and proactive approach to maritime security, a smooth coordination and communication between various maritime stakeholders is necessary, including naval forces, law enforcement agencies, port authorities, and industry professionals. In order to effectively handle the complex marine difficulties that arise, capacity-building initiatives prioritise the development of inter-agency collaborations, the exchange of knowledge, and the promotion of shared best practices. A cohesive marine security ecosystem that can quickly respond to new threats is fostered by regular joint exercises, cross-training programmes, and cooperative task forces that allow stakeholders to improve interoperability, streamline communication lines, and synchronise activities.

Empowering Local Communities and Enhancing Public Awareness: Using the combined experience and alertness of nearby communities can greatly support maritime security initiatives. A culture of shared responsibility is fostered by interacting with coastal communities through awareness efforts, educational initiatives, and participatory campaigns. This encourages community members to actively contribute to marine safety and report suspicious activity promptly. Authority can increase the reach of surveillance networks, obtain useful information from the ground up, and develop a resilient, community-focused strategy for protecting maritime assets and coastal areas by enlisting local stakeholders as watchful partners in maritime security.

Integrating Technology and Innovation: Although human knowledge is still indispensible, integrating state-of-the-art technologies—like artificial intelligence, data analytics, and advanced surveillance systems—offers tremendous assistance in improving maritime situational awareness, streamlining resource allocation, and promoting well-informed decision- making. By utilising technology-driven solutions, maritime stakeholders can more effectively monitor large marine domains, identify abnormalities in real-time, and allocate resources, hence boosting operational effectiveness and complementing human capabilities in the fight against maritime threats.

Promoting Regional Cooperation and Global Partnerships: Mitigating transnational maritime hazards requires building resilient marine networks through cooperative initiatives, information exchange, and regional cooperation. Stakeholders can effectively address maritime threats by developing a cohesive strategy, pooling resources, and building strategic partnerships between neighbouring countries, regional organisations, and global maritime alliances.



1.  United States v. Smith, 1820


Background: The case originated from an act of piracy committed on the high seas, prompting the U.S. authorities to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to trial.

Issue: The central issue revolved around the constitutional authority of Congress to define and punish acts of piracy under the Act of 1819.

Held: The Supreme Court affirmed that Congress had the authority to define piracy under the law of nations. The Act of 1819's definition, which characterized piracy as a robbery upon the sea, was upheld. The court's decision set a precedent for defining and prosecuting piracy under

U.S. law.


2.The Almezaan Incident, 2010


Background: The Almezaan, a UAE-owned cargo ship, came under attack by Somali pirates. Private security guards onboard responded by engaging the pirates, resulting in the death of one pirate.

Issue: This incident raised multiple questions regarding the application of piracy laws to actions by private security guards and the jurisdictional reach of these laws.

Held: While the Spanish navy took control of the ship and captured pirates, the incident sparked debate over the application of piracy laws to actions by private security personnel. Additionally, questions were raised about the extent of jurisdiction these laws hold over such incidents and the role of private security in combating maritime piracy.

3.United States v. Said, 2010


Background: Pirates in a small skiff approached the USS Ashland and opened fire. The USS Ashland's crew returned fire, resulting in the death of one pirate. The pirates were subsequently taken into custody.

Issue: The central issue was whether the actions of pirates approaching the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden constituted piracy under U.S. law.

Held: The district court dismissed the piracy charges against the pirates. The court ruled that the pirates' actions did not meet the definition of piracy as defined by U.S. law.



The complicated issues posed by modern-day piracy call for an all-encompassing response. UNCLOS serves as the cornerstone of the legal system, which offers a framework for combating piracy. But the ever-changing nature of maritime dangers necessitates constant innovation and adaptability. Naval patrols and cooperative drills are two examples of maritime security measures that have been shown to be successful in stopping pirate activity and securing commercial routes. Furthermore, although it requires close legal supervision, the involvement of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) has emerged as a  crucial element in improving vessel protection. Famous cases like United States v. Smith and The Almezaan Incident highlight how the law on piracy is constantly changing and how precise definitions and prosecutions of piracy-related offences are essential. Furthermore, in terms of maritime security, people are still crucial. Thus, it is evident to note that for combating piracy there is need of a collaborative and adaptive strategy that leverages legal instruments.



1.       Piracy Under International Law, available at (last visited on  April 15, 2024)

2.       Piracy and the Law of Sea, available at (last visited on April 15, 2024)

3.       History of Piracy, available at (last visited on April15, 2024)

4.       Piracy in World History, available at (last visited on April 15, 2024)

5.       Understanding                  Contemporary                  Maritime                  Piracy,                  available                  at (last visited on April 15, 2024)

6.       Rough Seas Contemporary Maritime Piracy, available at (last visited on, April 15, 2024)

7.       Preventing          Piracy:          Best          Practices          for          Maritime          Security,          available at security.html#:~:text=Creating%20secure%20zones%20within%20vessels,razor%20wire%20or%20electric

%20fences (last visited on April 16, 2024)

8.       Maritime Security,  available at (last visited on April 16, 2024)


9.       Important Supreme Court judgments on maritime piracy, available at supreme-court-judgments-on-maritime-piracy/ (last visited on April 16, 2024)


10.    Piracy Cases in the Supreme Court, available at (last visited on April 16, 2024)

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