Incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia have increased in recent years, rising by 47% between 2005 and 2009. With a growing number of states involved in the determent and disruption of attacks, there is a need to outline their human rights obligations when engaging in counter-piracy operations, so that suspected pirates are treated in accordance with international law. In addition, providing clarity to states regarding their responsibilities enables them to make informed decisions about whether, and how, to prosecute suspected pirates.
This paper presents both sides of the debate over whether States should allow payment of ransoms to pirates. United States Executive Order 13536 and other recent national and international legislation have brought increased awareness to this issue. This paper does not attempt to settle the ransom debate, but instead highlights the key issues, which perhaps will inspire progress in the fight to curb piracy.
Maritime piracy continues to afflict the modern world. Basing their operations in places like Somalia, modern pirates have been able to launch attacks on ships traveling some of the world’s most trafficked waterways. The international community has created an interim prosecution regime that allows domestic courts in the region, notably those in Kenya, to try suspected pirates who are captured in international waters by cooperating navies.
Somali pirates astound because their skiff-mounted attacks on state-of-the-art supertankers repeatedly yield multimillion dollar ransoms, and because they can basically count on getting away with it. Why? Because the legal framework that governs the high seas contains blatant gaps that currently make prosecuting piracy difficult —if not impossible. The result? A deeply frustrated and embarrassed international community and a rising call for engaging pirates on land.