Meet the new generation of pirates, or "maritime non-state actors"

In today's political environment of state instability and terrorism, sea piracy is making a comeback. And some of these pirate groups actually have fleets that rival national navies. Here's how the new generation of pirates has become the terror of the seas. Arrrrgh!

Photo via Reuters

Over at gCaptain, there's a really interesting article by Naval officers Chris Rawley and Claude Berube about the evolution of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from a group of activists, into what the Supreme Court recently called "pirates." Today, these pirates are often dubbed maritime non-state actors (MNSAs), and Rawley and Berube argue that they are changing how we understand the definition of "navy." Here's their description of the contemporary pirate scene:

Motivations are one of the key traits distinguishing malevolent MNSAs from legitimate and benign MNSAs such as fishermen, merchant shipping, or sea-going non-governmental organizations. An example of the latter is Mercy Ships, which provides medical services to disadvantaged populations. The objectives of MNSAs can be political, criminal, or military, and range the spectrum of conflict from activists to terrorists. In the middle of the spectrum are profit-motivated narcotics and illicit smugglers who exploit the sea for logistics purposes, and pirates, who although violent, are still in it for the money. M/V Karine A, a Palestinian freighter which was carrying 50 tons of weapons allegedly bound for Hezbollah when it was seized by Israelis, is typical of these smugglers. [2] One of the most successful – and dangerous – MNSAs in recent years was the Tamil Sea Tigers, from the now defunct Sri Lankan LTTE insurgents. Al Qaeda presents the greatest threat of these groups from a US perspective, and has planned a number of attacks at sea, attempted a few with moderate levels of success, and in the case of USS Cole in 2000, nearly succeeded in sinking a multi-billion dollar modern warship. In 2006, Hezbollah launched a C-802 anti-ship missile that killed four crew members of the Israeli ship INS Hanit.[3] Though the ability to conduct suicide boat-borne improvised explosive attacks and other isolated operations would not meet the criteria for a naval force by any standard, the demonstration of successful offensive maritime capability proves that MNSAs are worthy of concern.

Sea Shepherd is a prime example of a less-than-lethal MNSA, using tactics that could be considered activism, but bordering on criminality. [4] The group is very experienced in seaborne operations and has been fairly effective in its mission to save marine life, thus explaining the categorization as an environmental activist group. They have harassed and even rammed ships, but their activities have not resulted in a loss of life. Greenpeace, Sea Shepherds’ older, but slightly more docile sister organization, has also engaged in aggressive tactics throughout its history. These deliberate acts are designed primarily to draw attention to a cause. In some cases, they are meant to invoke an intentional reaction, or better still, over-reaction, by corporate entities, maritime law enforcement agencies, coast guards, or navies. Although their campaigns to protect whales against Japanese whaling fleet have been their most famous operations, the organization acts on behalf of several other fisheries and marine mammals around the globe, including blue-fin tuna in the Mediterranean, dolphins in Japan, seals in Canada, and sharks in the Galapagos.

On 25 February 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District ruled that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a pirate organization.[5] “When you ram ships,” the opinion noted, “hurl containers of acid; drag metal-reinforced ropes in the water to damage propellers and rudders; launch smoke bombs and flares with hooks; and point high-powered lasers at other ships, you are, without a doubt, a pirate.” Beyond the fact that they have modified the skull and crossbones to a skull and tridents as their logo, a legal case can be made to brand them as pirates. According to Article 101 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), piracy consists of “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew.” Although a lower court limited “private ends” to financial enrichment,” the Court of Appeals ruled that “private ends” is far broader than simply taking money, despite the fact that historically pirates have not attacked ships for any other reason than to take the ship, cargo, or ransom the crew. But the definition of piracy does not include political ends and this is where Sea Shepherd is different since, like Al-Qaeda or the former Tamil Sea Tigers, they seek policy changes.

Read the rest of this article at gCaptain