Who Makes these Rules, Anyway?

Several organizations study and report on piracy:

  • The International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) is part of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The PRC operates out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a United Nations (U.N.) agency. The IMO helps develop legislation governing maritime safety and environmental issues.
  • Most coastal nations have their own laws criminalizing piracy and their own methods for enforcing them.

Many definitions of piracy cite the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (CLOS), which also covers privacy via aircraft. You can read the CLOS at the U.N. Web page.

Preventing Pirate Attacks

Fortunately, there are tools and techniques for avoiding, preventing and surviving pirate attacks. A satellite system called ShipLoc allows shipping companies to monitor the location of their ships. This can be particularly useful if pirates hijack or steal a ship. Companies can also install non-lethal electrical fences around a ship's perimeter, as long as that ship does not carry flammable cargo. In addition, International Maritime Organization regulations require ships to be able to send distress signals and warnings covertly in case of pirate attack.

To prevent pirate attacks, crews should:

  • Avoid discussing a ship's route or cargo while in port
  • Keep constant watch in areas prone to piracy
  • Avoid bottlenecks in shipping lanes
  • Search the ship before leaving port to make sure no one is on board without authorization

The best defense against a pirate attack is evasion -- it's easier to keep pirates from boarding than to force them to leave. Upon detecting the approach of pirates, a crew should:

  • Call for help and warn other ships in the area
  • Take evasive action and attempt to out-maneuver the attackers
  • Sound the alarm, use the ship's lights to illuminate the vessel, and do anything else to make the pirates aware that they have lost the element of surprise

If the pirates approach the ship, the crew should first try to throw off any grappling hooks or poles before the pirates can board. Crew can also use the ship's fire hoses to deter pirates or try to push them overboard. However, experts discourage crew members from carrying firearms, since the presence of weapons can encourage attackers to respond with violence.

Once the pirates board the ship, the crew's first priority is to ensure their own safety. The crew should also try to stay in control of the craft and encourage the pirates to depart. You can read more about recommendations for surviving a pirate attack on the International Maritime Organization's safety pages.

Check out the links on the next page to learn more about pirates, piracy and related topics.