Admiralty & Maritime Law

Will Pirates Pay a Price? Is Prosecution a Rule Threat for Today's Pirates?

In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the world made a concerted effort to end piracy and to allow lawful vessels to move freely among the world’s waterways. Their efforts were largely effective and the threat of pirate attacks decreased significantly. However, in recent years modern day pirates have emerged and are once again creating terror on the high seas.
How Classic Pirates were Defeated by the Law
The heyday of the classic pirates came to rather abrupt end in the 1720s. The end of the pirate era was not due to a sudden change of heart among the pirates but rather due to the concerted efforts of the world. The countries of the world worked together to prevent pirate attacks and to punish the pirates who attacked before those attacks could be prevented. National resources were used to create powerful navies that could protect the high seas and other waterways. 
Modern Legal Obstacles to Defeating Piracy
For many years the world enjoyed a lull in pirate activity. While piracy was never fully eradicated, it was not an issue that concerned many seamen. However, since the 1990s, the world has seen resurgence in piracy, albeit not to the levels known to previous generations. While the tactics that worked to relieve the world of the piracy problem several centuries ago are still in place, the coordinated efforts of the different nations could be increased to adequately address the tactics of today’s pirates.
One of the problems encountered by those who wish to fight piracy is determining which law governs the pirates’ actions and which country should have jurisdiction over the suspected pirate. Few countries want to prosecute and sentence a pirate who is encountered in international waters and currently international organizations are unwilling to get involved. Accordingly, many times pirate encounters end in one of two ways. One way of ending a pirate encounter is to disrupt, the pirates’ activities or satisfy their demands for ransom.
The second option is that the pirates are caught, questioned, detained and then brought back to their native country for prosecution.   This option is not always possible however. The native country may have known human rights issues which make it difficult for countries which are party to certain international treaties to return prisoners to their native countries. Also, the navy vessel which has the captured pirates may have other business to conduct and it might be impractical and unfeasible for the vessel, or any other vessel in the fleet, to return the pirates to their native country. Finally, there is no guarantee that a trial, much less a fair trial with a just punishment, will occur in the native country.
Therefore, as the world witnesses modern day pirate attacks, the international community must work together to find modern day ways of accomplishing what previous generations were able to accomplish with regard to deterring and prosecuting pirates. Then, seaman will once again be able to travel the world’s water ways without fear of a pirate attack.
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