Borrowing from Civil Aviation Security: Does International Law Governing Airline Hijacking Offer Solutions to the Modern Maritime Piracy Epidemic of the Coast of Somalia?

Maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to spiral into an increasingly threatening international crisis, with attacks in the Gulf of Aden increasing during the first half of 2011. 

Key Findings

While more states have been prosecuting pirates in their national courts during the last year, United Nations officials have indicated that as many as 90 percent of pirates captured by national navies are subsequently released due to complicated legal and financial burdens associated with prosecution. In the search for solutions to the current maritime piracy problem, international legal initiatives addressing civil aviation security may offer insight. A global trend of airline hijackings beginning in the late 1960s and culminating in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, catalyzed various initiatives that have improved the efficacy of aviation security. The international legal regime governing civil aviation security developed through various international treaties, conventions, agreements, declarations, and resolutions from important international institutions. Likewise, the United States, as the world’s largest aviation market, has also contributed to the international civil aviation regime through its domestic legislation. Taken together, this broad international legal regime offers a valuable example of cooperation and collaboration between various international stakeholders to address a trend in international crime. While there are limitations that must be considered in drawing an analogy between airline hijackings and maritime piracy due to contextual and legal distinctions, there are significant similarities that foster effective comparison of approaches. In particular, the civil aviation security regime may inform the following initiatives relevant to maritime piracy: the elimination of safe havens through the enforcement of international agreements obliging states to prosecute piracy crimes; increased port security to ensure the use of Best Management Practices to avoid piratical acts; economic sanctions targeting financers of piracy crimes; and enhanced communication and coordination among stakeholders affected by the piracy crises.