Since 2005, there has been growing consensus and frequently recurring calls in the international community for the leaders, financiers, and land-based facilitators of modern maritime piracy to be prosecuted.
There is broad recognition (at least in concept and rhetoric) that successfully prosecuting the low-level skiff pirates, while part of the equation, will ultimately have limited impact on ending or substantially reducing piracy, at least in terms of the law enforcement and prosecution components of national and international counter-piracy efforts. Indeed, one of the four priorities of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia for 2013 and beyond is “[t]o strengthen and focus law enforcement efforts to disrupt pirate networks ashore, including by establishing effective information exchanges among prosecutors, investigators and private industry” Yet to date, with the exception of the conviction of two pirate negotiators (which might be considered mid-level management) and the recent arrest of pirate leader Mohamed Abdi Hassan (better known as “Afweyne”) in Belgium, there have been no prosecutions of higher- or top-level pirate leaders, financiers, or facilitators. While approximately 1,200 pirates have been, or are being prosecuted in various parts of the world (primarily in Somalia, 402; Kenya, 164; Yemen, 129; and Seychelles, 124),2 almost none of them can be considered anything more than low-level skiff pirates. Why is that the case, and what lessons can the international community and national authorities learn from our experience fighting East African piracy, in fighting piracy elsewhere, or indeed dealing with other international and transnational crime?