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Rethinking Contemporary Counter-Piracy Policy

By Hugh Fleming. Full Text. 

Traditional piracy often evokes the image of swashbuckling sailors, independent from the rest of society and roaming the seas to seek their fortune. The image has been heavily romanticized by Hollywood and other sources of popular folklore, much like the cowboys in the western United States. In reality, modern piracy presents a significant threat to the international community, by endangering innocent lives, interfering with important shipping routes, and imposing significant costs through enforcement efforts and ransoms paid to pirates. Yet piracy has proven exceedingly difficult to combat for a variety of reasons.

This Essay examines and critiques current approaches to combating piracy, which attempt to deter pirates by increasing the risk of apprehension and punishment at the point a putative pirate must decide whether to undertake the criminal act. This approach, however, overlooks an important factor in the decision-making calculus of possible pirates: attractive alternative acts. Contemporary piracy thrives in regions lacking political and economic stability, where the young men who are often recruited as pirates have few or no comparable opportunities to earn a living. Thus, the Essay concludes that continued efforts to deter pirates will not be effective absent substantial change to non-criminal alternatives to crime in the regions plagued by the scourge of piracy.