International Piracy Mitigation Fosters Rare Collaborations

Piracy is often thought to be a practice of the past, if not romanticized in fictional portrayals. But today’s pirates are eerily emblematic of 19th century pirates. While not as rampant, modern Pirates coupled with 21st-century challenges — narcotics, terrorism, and trafficking — pose serious problems.

In 2020, piracy increased by 20% worldwide. Through a more targeted lens, it nearly doubled in the Indo-Pacific region. These unprecedented spikes in piracy threaten regional stability and global peace, necessitating a pointed response. America has worked tirelessly to mitigate piracy’s prevalence. To maximize efficiency, American partnerships with global powers — namely, China, Japan, and India — are expediting efforts in the Indo-Pacific. Too often have international scholars ignored these critical collaborations.

Following the terrible tides of maritime conflict, Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) — an anti-piracy operation created in 2008— coordinated missions between Chinese, American, Japanese, and Indian Diplomats. This voluntary alliance revitalized damaged assets and fostered multinational piracy prevention. At the 42nd SHADE conference in 2022, US foreign representatives crafted tactical anti-piracy strategies known as Best Management Practices. China also reaffirmed its intent to remain a strong ally, thus cementing future partnerships. To date, such facilitated dialogues have continued annually.

In 2009, Somali pirates surged and devastated the nation’s economy. Luckily, in September of that year, the US diplomats and China formed bilateral solutions. The impact materialized for the Chinese Navy, with U.S. assistance, “rescued… 43 ships in 32 missions.” These naval exercises projected an image of joint leadership and helped clear the seas of violent conflict.

Had initiatives lacked this element of collaboration, their effect would be limited. No country can handle the vast ocean alone. As Daniel Garrun put it, “To catch a pirate, cooperation is key.”

Even today, the Gulf of Aden is still cascaded with crime. In response, Japan joined U.S. and UK naval vessels in 2021 anti-piracy drills, providing a solid front against pirates. More broadly, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an alliance consisting of the US, Australia, India, and Japan, recently planned several joint defense operations for dismantling marine violations. Besides successfully putting the brakes on piracy, these set a precedent for future naval collaborations.

On September 24, 2021, high-level Australian, Indian, Japanese, and American diplomats assembled at the Quad Leader’s summit. In addition to discussing well-known issues, they tackled the Indo-Pacific, fraught piracy, and maritime compromises. This general discourse will only continue as Pentagon officials confirmed that Antony Blinken and the Indian External Affairs Minister convened in April 2022 and will plan future cooperation. Such India-US discussions will not only promote maritime relations but also draw the premise of future naval contracts.

In 2008, “Rep. Payne spoke passionately before Congress about…investing in the Somalian government.” Taking strides towards this approach, Congress is now eroding the root cause of piracy: poverty and hunger. Oftentimes, pirates begin inflicting terror and exploiting ships because of poverty and unemployment on land. To solve this, the US provided $253 million for financial development in Somalia. Near the Gulf of Guinea, America is improving Angola’s financial sector and medicine capabilities. Taken together, these efforts are bolstering weak states and reducing the incentive for piracy.

Diplomats also proposed and passed the Indo-Pacific Maritime Security Initiative to congress, which would gradually dispense $425 million towards maritime stability. The massive spending package guarantees assistance towards counter-piracy initiatives with US allies in the Indo-Pacific. Such funding strengthened partnerships with China and effectively launched a “war” on piracy.

It is practically impossible to track how many pirates have been discouraged by US naval crackdown and diplomatic dialogue. What can be said for certain is that without cooperative efforts, pirates would parade the ocean. In the future, foreign service officers should expand current strategies — defense, discussion, money, and organizations — to ensure piracy doesn’t intensify again. When COVID-19 energized maritime shipping, that left more ships open to pirates. Even with the pandemic declining, sudden outbreaks and consequently more cargo ships could create a pirate’s paradise. America must be prepared.

American diplomats must put aside geopolitical differences, particularly with China, for the sake of safety. After all, ruined economies, potential drug bonanzas, kidnappings, and billions of dollars are at stake. Collaboration shouldn’t be forced, but capitalized.

Ashwin Telang
Ashwin Telang
Ashwin Telang works at the Borgen Project, an organization which aims to make international poverty a focus of U.S. policy.