Getting down to business: the views of Clay Maitland



On Thursday morning, 3 February, the International Maritime Organization will host a ceremony to launch the Action Plan to promote 2011’s World Maritime Day theme: “Piracy: Orchestrating the Response”. The proceedings will be headed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, and the Secretary-General of the IMO, Admiral E.E. Mitropoulos, and those invited include the Secretary-General of NATO, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

It is to be hoped that something tangible and concrete will emerge from this gathering of the captains and the kings. One positive outcome would be a specific Action Plan, containing the following things:

1. A determination that financial instruments, bank accounts and other assets used by pirates, including but not limited to ransom proceeds, will be traced and blocked, much in the manner now employed by United Nations sanctions regimes. Surely all those ransom payments are not being buried under a lone pine tree, a la Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

2. An international Convention on the Suppression of Piracy (COSP), granting universal military and political authority to suppress piratical acts. This instrument should include specific provision for:

• Jurisdiction in the courts of law of States Party to the Convention;

• The right to carry arms and armed guards aboard merchant vessels;

• The duty of port states and flag states to respect the right of merchant vessels, and their crews, to bear arms, in defense against pirates and similar assailants;

• The sequestration of bank accounts, financial instruments and all other tangible and intangible assets, including vessels, employed by pirates;

• The universal and inalienable right of seafarers of all nations regardless of their nationality, or of the flag states or states of registry of the vessels in which they serve, to the protection of the international community.

Articles 100 through 111 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea are valuable and important, in that they represent a basis in universally accepted international law. In particular, Article 100, entitled “Duty to Co-operate in the Repression of Piracy”, provides as follows:

All States shall co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.

The long and circuitous dialogue, couched in vague and anodyne terms, to the effect that “we really should do something about piracy” has become threadbare and increasingly embarrassing. It’s time to get down to business; calls to action are fine and dandy, but the specific action to be taken is clear, apparent and long overdue.