WLU professor researches piracy law


Pirates are not a new phenomenon. However, until recent media coverage on the issue, very little was known about these bandits.

According to Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor and director of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), Patricia Goff, the reason most people are in the dark about this is because, “The majority of piracy incidents that occur go unreported.”

“Shippers don’t see the value in prosecuting it. Insurance premiums can be increased, so there is little reason to file a report,” said Goff.

Despite the frequency of piracy, there is little that has been done to prosecute pirates or thwart the hijackings.

At a workshop held in Washington D.C. on Oct. 16 and 17, Goff and her fellow panel of academics, as well as the vice-president of the Law of the Sea Tribunal, intended to discuss the means by which pirates can be prosecuted and the potential ramifications for international law.

Goff admits that there is no easy solution to the problem. Piracy is a crime whose boundaries have universal jurisdiction.

It is not enough to force governments to take action on criminals from their own country. “Most governments are hesitant to move on it,” Goff explains. This is because “it is difficult and costly to gather evidence.”

Another issue remains that the overwhelming majority of pirates come from Somalia. “[Somalia is] a failing state with no functioning legal system, and they have larger issues to deal with than piracy,” said Goff.

For Goff, the time for action is now. She believes that, “For ASCUNS, partnership seems particularly fruitful.”

While it is unlikely that the workshop itself will result in an immediate change in international law, all are hopeful that it will lead to the eventual establishment of laws that will bring pirates to justice.

Sharing the loot

A UN report provides a breakdown of how these modern-day pirates divide their ransom spoils.
While no concrete formula exists, the report gathered information from pirates based in the north-eastern Somali village of Eyl.

goes directly to the maritime militia. These are the pirates involved in actual hijacking.

is given to the ground militia. These militants are the armed groups who control the territory where the pirates are based.

is claimed by local community members – namely elders and local officials.

goes to the financier. The financier provides funding and advice to make the attacks possible.

is collected by the pirates’ sponsor. The sponsor helps and promotes the pirates’ cause.

–Data from BBC World

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