Monday saw a joint special forces operation between the United States and Great Britain rescue the crew of the Italian ship the Montecristo which had been seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The pirates are now in NATO custody. To date, there have been 194 incidents involving piracy in the Indian Ocean, a number that is up from last year according to the International Maritime Bureau, and as of late September, there are approximately 400 hostages being held by Somali pirates. Both the European Union and NATO have naval missions dedicated to protecting ships in the region. Just days before the rescue, Italy had stated that it will start putting military guards on ships traveling through pirate-infested waters.
Despite these measures, the incidences of piracy remain alarmingly common and show no signs of abating. Does international law offer any solutions to this continuing problem? Piracy does not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and there is seemingly no room to add it. The International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction covers crimes that deal with international armed conflict and then only the most grave and serious offenses. The idea of an international criminal tribunal has been put out there, however most members to the United Nations do not support it. Even if there was support, action by the United Nations is limited to dealing with conduct of state actors which these pirates are not. The current system leaves it up to the individual nations to prosecute pirates, however, thus far, they have been reluctant to do. This might be a problem that international law is incapable of addressing. This proliferation of piracy has coincided with the socio-economic breakdown of Somalia and until the situation there improves, there might not be anything that can be done to curtail piracy.