Investigating and prosecuting acts of maritime piracy, as a part of a broader counter–piracy policy, is far from simple when it comes to determining who should take the lead: a hijacked ship may be owned by a Dutch shipping company, flagged in Panama, manned by Filipinos and finally liberated by German Special Forces.
Good coordination is vital to improve the effectiveness of judicial and law enforcement response. As a first step, the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (USNCIS) and Europol joined forces. Yesterday, on 15 December, the NCIS, Interpol and Europol met in The Hague. In order to ensure the effective prosecution of culprits, they agreed guidelines on how to properly investigate a maritime piracy case.
Project ‘Maritime Piracy’ has been run by Europol’s counter terrorism unit, in close cooperation with Eurojust and Interpol, since the start of this year. Focus is on criminal activities that take place 8000 miles away, around the Horn of Africa. Despite the huge distance, these crimes have an impact on Europe and the western world. So far, the following EU countries have joined the project: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The USNCIS/Europol guidelines foresee a uniform approach of the initial crime assessment by using standard investigation techniques, combined with state–of–the–art forensic examination of the material elements available on the crime scene. A standardised operating procedure for registration of biometric and identifying information, such as the DNA and fingerprints of possible suspects, will increase the potential for successful prosecution of pirates and piracy cases.
Thus far, the response of the international community has been one of a predominantly military nature. This kind of response can only be effective when combined with a sustained law enforcement approach. A good example is the recent case where seven pirates were intercepted a fortnight ago by a frigate of EU NAVFOR. The mugshots of these men were sent to the Belgian police, who were investigating the case of the Belgian vessel ‘Pompei’, which was hijacked in the Indian Ocean some 15 months ago. One of the seven intercepted men was formally identified by several crew members of the ‘Pompei’ and was consequently arrested and remanded in custody. It is expected that the guidelines established today will lead to more successful prosecution cases like these.
In the last few years, acts of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia have threatened the food supply of millions of people who are dependent on international aid provided through the World Food Programme. Any hiccups with food supplies can spell disaster and cause millions of starving refugees to spill over into neighbouring countries, causing further instability in a very sensitive area of the world.
The African Union troops in Mogadishu, battling the Al Shabaab insurgency and keeping the fragile Transitional Federal Government in place, also depend on vital maritime supply routes which are threatened by the roaming pirates.
Statistics show that 15% of the world's oil production, and 20% of the world's trade, passes through the Gulf of Aden. Furthermore, 80% of all traffic through the Gulf is destined for Europe. Since piracy became a major issue, costs for the shipping industry have been spiralling out of control due to higher insurance rates, security costs and the increased operational costs incurred by longer alternative routes. Meanwhile, maritime piracy has become the first growth industry in Somalia, netting hundreds of million dollars over the last few years.