"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" (Robert Lewis Stevenson)

    The maritime environment has always seen pirates, but only since 2000 has there been a rise in transnational violence on the high seas, in the form of both piracy and sea-borne terrorism.  Chalk (2008) speculated that a "piracy-terrorism nexus" has come about, in the form of extremist groups working in conjunction with or subcontracting out missions to maritime crime gangs and syndicates.  It may seem odd to use the conflated term "pirate/terrorist" because the objectives of the two are different.  Piracy is predicated on financial gain while terrorism is motivated by political goals.  The business of piracy is dependent on a thriving global shipping industry, and maritime terrorists are assumed to be seeking the destruction of the global maritime trade network as part of their self-defined economic war against the West.

    About 400 actual or attempted acts of piracy occur every year, and the majority of attacks take place in the waters off Southeast Asia, particularly around Indonesia and Bangladesh which together account for 45% of world piracy (Chalk 2008).  Other significant areas include the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, African coastal regions, the Mediterranean, and the Caribbean.  Accurate figures for the incidence of piracy are hard to come by because as many as 50% of all incidents go unreported.  Piracy takes many forms.  Here are some examples.  There are high-level pirates, such as the organized crime rings who hijack commercial ships and re-register them under another flag of convenience; i.e., the so-called "phantom ship" phenomenon.  There are medium-level pirates who try to board big ships or fixed platforms for mayhem, ransacking, theft, violence, and ransom.  There are low-level pirates who hold up passengers as a ship is docked or harbored.  All piracy is an embarrassment to any nation affected by it.  It undermines regime legitimacy, fosters economic inefficiency and corruption, affects the lives and welfare of citizens, and could potentially trigger major environmental disasters.  The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) defines piracy as:

an act of boarding or attempting to board any ship with the apparent intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the apparent intent or capability to use force in furtherance of that act

    A similar yet different definition exists under UNCLOS, but it requires the pirates use a ship of their own (when some attacks occur portside) and that the theft occur on the high seas (when most attacks occur in territorial or coastal waters).  The most common "other crime" committed by pirates is ransom kidnapping.  Without going into detail on any further kinds of mayhem pirates engage in, suffice it to say that among the victims, much mental trauma is involved.  Survivors of pirate attacks often do not fully recover and never go to sea again.  Torture is common.  Stockholm syndrome sometimes occurs.  When murder happens, sometimes the victims' bodies are never recovered.  The scope of the problem is so bad that it surpasses the ability of nations to police it.  In Indonesia, for example, the government there would need to put 300 ships on patrol every 100 nautical miles to effectively police piracy.  National or multinational military forces often have to be called in, and historically, most pirates have been apprehended by military personnel and tried by military tribunal.  Yet, much of history is marked by a global tolerance for piracy.  In fact, piracy existed alongside privateering, which is government-authorized piracy granted by a sovereign via a letter of marque to attack who they please during wartime, sparing their patron as much as possible.  Since many scholars regard the origin of piracy to be in privateering, let's focus in on the latter for a bit:

Privateers and Pirates

     The distinction between a privateer and a pirate has always been vague. The work was the same, but the perceived legality was different. A privateer would have papers (called a letter of marque or letter of marque and reprisal) granting permission from some royal sovereign to raid and plunder enemy ships, keep a share of treasure, and bring the captured ship and crew back under admiralty law and "prize law" which required auction (Anderson & Gifford 1991). If captured, a privateer could expect prisoner of war treatment. Licensed privateers became widespread by the 16th century, and during the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812, it was hard to tell the difference between privateers and regular sailors. The American Revolutionary and Civil Wars made extensive use of privateers. Presidential candidate Ron Paul proposed their use after 9/11. Most privateers consisted of professional seamen, debtors, convicts, and former pirates. Many privateers ended up becoming pirates. They preferred the French words "corsairs" or "buccaneers" to describe themselves, although alternative nomenclature existed; e.g., "swashbucklers" (the Three Musketeers), "swordsmen" (Scottish clans, Asian and Middle Eastern archetypes), "brigands" (gangs who plunder), and "gunslingers" (American wild West). The argument that privateering gave rise to piracy as made by Sherry (2008) rests on the point that privateers were only legitimately authorized during wartime. During peacetime, they were expected to return to merchant duty or shackles, which they refused and so became pirates or "dishonest sailors." However, the history is such that privateers hardly honored their letters of marque at all, in wartime or peace, and the whole thing became a thinly-veiled excuse or justification for out-and-out piracy, which has always held "outlaw" status.     

    These days, the real debate is over the distinction between pirates and terrorists.  Victims of piracy are covered under insurance, and terrorism risk insurance does NOT usually recognize maritime terrorism.  Hence, no nation admits it has a maritime terrorism problem.  When a nation admits a piracy problem, it only claims it to be a minor gang or crime issue that anti-crime policies are addressing.  There is no comprehensive, strategic "playbook" for counter-piracy, no sound foreign or defense policy, and little by way of coherent law.  Like controversies in the law of terrorism, the law of piracy recognizes that labels such as "pirate" as well as "bandit," "outlaw," "gangster," and  "terrorist" can be used for political purposes.  Examples include the French Revolution and Nazi Germany where authorities used the terms to persecute "enemies of the state" and "undesirables."  In fact, during the Cartagena Rebellion in Spain during 1874, authorities declared the rebels "piratic" which allowed any nation to prey on them.  This feature -- allowing any nation to prey on them -- is perhaps the most coherent part of the MARITIME PIRACY LAW.  It comes from ancient Roman law, found its way into Common law, the Law of Nations, and even to some extent in Constitutional law, as follows:


    Piracy is cyclical in nature, so here the major historical epochs are covered.  The Greeks and Romans battled pirates in the time before Christ.  The Adriatic Sea (between the back of Italy and the Balkan nations) eventually became overrun by pirates.  Ancient Chinese warlords also had pirates serving under them.  If there was a pattern to ancient world piracy, it was that their attacks were selective on certain merchants and/or merchant cities (they were friends with some).  Also, increased pirate activity tended to occur in the aftermath of wars, presumably because some naval commander was dissatisfied with the outcome of a war and became a pirate.  What motivated most people to become a pirate, however, was the desire to exit slavery and become freemen -- not just ordinary freemen, but free in the widest sense of the term (ironic, because many ancient pirates were involved in the slave trade).  Pirate captains regarded themselves as "kings" -- not in the ordinary sense because they ruled no land.  Pirates have, and always will be, anti-sovereigns (Thompson 1996).  They bear no allegiance to any organized form of government, and historically have stood in armed opposition to that process of nation-state building which we call international society.  If one goes back in time far enough, to Ancient Egypt and the history of Mediterranean piracy for example, one finds the origin of piracy in the concept of "sea peoples" -- groups of people with mixed nationalities who were loyal to no one but themselves.  Because they were strong men with tales of military accomplishments, most people (at least secretly) liked pirates. Only in the Greek language did the word "pirate" have any criminal connotations.  To most people, it simply meant "outsider" -- a man seeking adventure, reputation, and rapid wealth -- not necessarily a lawbreaker.  The Romans did not take piracy seriously until late in their Empire (circa 78 BC with Julius Caesar's kidnapping, ransom, and rise to power), declaring pirates communes hostes gentium, or enemies of all mankind (Ormerod 1974).

    In the Middle Ages, the most well-known and far-reaching pirates were the Vikings, who for almost 400 years (between the 8th and 12th centuries), raided and looted all of Western Europe, plundered the Baltic Sea, and reached as far as the Black Sea, North Africa, and Newfoundland.  History and literature have treated the Vikings romantically, portraying them as "noble savages," intrepid adventurers, or mystic cultists.  In reality, there were motivated by anti-Christianity and bent on revenge for Charlemagne's Christianization of Europe.  They practiced a form of berserker, frenzied combat, often aided by the ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms and/or alcohol.  Nazi Germany regarded them as a pure Germanic type.  Their attacks were characterized by rapine (violent seizure of property), slaughter, and the occasional rape (most pirates do not honor the institution of marriage, and obtain pleasure from taking another man's wife).  Meanwhile, the Islamic Moors did much the same thing throughout much of the Mediterranean, the Southern coast of England, and a significant segment of Europe (primarily Spain).  The Moors (aka Berbers, African Arabs, Blacks) were the medieval Muslim inhabitants of Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania who believed they owned the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) along with portions of France and Italy.  For 700 years (from 711 to 1492, the period known as the Reconquista), they fought with Christian armies on European soil.  After their fall in 1492, they turned to piracy, in the form of what history calls the Barbary Pirates (the Barbary coast - today referred to as the Maghreb - refers to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya).  For about 400 years, the Barbary Pirates were quite successful at seizing ships, stealing cargo, demanding tribute, and enslaving some one million white-skinned people for the Islamic slave trade.  The American Marine Hymn "To the Shores of Tripoli" is a reference to Thomas Jefferson's war against the Barbary Pirates in 1801 when the United States decided it had had enough of them.  Islamic slavery was known for its horrifying conditions, but there was always the opportunity to get free if your family paid ransom and forced prostitution or sexual slavery was somewhat rare.  The only other nation which produced notable pirates during the Middle Ages was Frisia (or Friesland, a coastal area along the North Sea which extends from the Netherlands across Germany to Denmark).  The Prussians wiped out Frisian piracy by 1745 and today, the Frisian people and its language are almost extinct.

    The years 1690-1730 are called the Golden Age or Great Age of Piracy (Pringle 1953), and this is when pirates started taking colorful names for themselves, like Black Bart and Calico Jack.  This era was also when the Jolly Roger (or Skull and Crossbones) black flag was invented, originating from a red flag, called the Joli Rouge, which meant that no quarter would be given if the victim resisted.  Once a pirate ship approached its target, the false flag would be lowered and the Jolly Roger raised.  Usually a warning shot was also given at the same time.  The PIRATE CODE was also invented during this period, and although there were many versions of it, some more "democratic" than others (Sherry 2008), here are some of the Pirate Code's common features:

    Most Golden Age pirates were of English, French, or Dutch origin, and their center of operation was the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Bermuda, Florida).  Their targets were the trade ships between Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe which carried gold, silver, sugar, rum, wine, molasses, tobacco, hemp, guns, ammunition, and manufactured goods.  So much treasure was plundered during this era that the pirates had to resort to "buried treasure" and "treasure maps" but otherwise became quite wealthy.  At least two female pirates existed (Anne Bonny and Mary Read) and it is alleged they fought bare-breasted to distract their opponents during combat.  Image or fashion-consciousness also existed with male pirates.  For example, pirates are to thank for the practice of a man getting his ear pierced so the earring could pay for his burial if his body washed ashore.  The wearing of an eyepatch was to keep one eye accustomed to the darkness below deck.  Many pirates did keep parrots on their shoulders as pets because they could be trained to talk and fetched a good price if sold.  Not too many had hooks or peg legs, however, as crippled pirates usually cashed in on disability payments.  Persons kidnapped by pirates were either ransomed, sold, pressed into service, or marooned on deserted islands (they always showed mercy to musicians and artisans).  The Golden Age sputtered out as the world's nations beefed up their navies and starting hunting down pirates.  Most escaped or "disappeared" into parts unknown, most likely West Africa.  By 1830, piracy in the Gulf of Mexico had become eradicated mostly due to the American navy's steam ships, although isolated incidents occurred up to the 1920s.  About the same time (circa 1834), America put an end to river piracy up and down the Ohio and Mississippi river region by shutting down their notorious stronghold at Cave-In-Rock, Illinois.

    The Modern Age of piracy began with the end of the Cold War (circa 1991) when many of the world's navies cut back on size and operations, and a number of disgruntled would-be seafarers saw opportunity with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the simultaneous downsizing of militaries by Western nations during the "peace dividend" years (1991-1999).  The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) started keeping statistics on piracy in 1995.  Between 2005 and 2010, piracy off the coast of Somalia increased 400%; from 2004 to 2007, piracy in the South China Sea skyrocketed; in 2010, the drug war entered the age of piracy on Falcon Lake, Texas; in 2011, piracy erupted in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea; and also that year (2011), Brazil finally admitted it had a river piracy problem in the Amazon as well as the European Union along the Danube.  Modern pirates are well-armed and equipped with the latest technology; carry out attacks with speedboats launched from a mother ship; and are less interested in cargo (except for cash in the ship's safe and ransom for the crew) than the boat itself (to be repainted and given a new identity).  Most modern pirates are young (in their twenties), and very little profiling information exists, but it is alleged they often do drugs and drink alcohol quite heavily.  According to Burnett (2003), they are "gangs of poverty-stricken young men (and sometimes women) employed by or linked to warlords, organized crime syndicates and terrorists."  They are at least smart enough to throw their weapons overboard if captured because this reduces the chances of successful prosecution.  Today's pirates are a mixed bunch and can be found the world over.  They can be part of a rogue military unit (such as in Indonesia), part of a terrorist organization (such as in the Philippines), part of a drug cartel (as in Mexico), part of an Asian or European crime syndicate, or simply down-and-out fishermen who see a rich prize steaming by and can't resist (as in the Caribbean, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and elsewhere).


    Modern piracy is constantly shifting and evolving, so it is hard to make definitive statements about patterns and trends.  There are also distinctive regional variations.  Further, given the absence of any successful prosecution for it, there is no proven linkage between piracy, organized crime, and terrorism.  One can infer these things from pirate tactics and techniques, however.  Adding to the problem is the likelihood that fewer than 50% of pirate attacks are ever reported.  When a ship calls the police, the Coast Guard, the Navy, or the CIA (yes, the CIA has a special Counter-Terrorist and Counter-Narcotics unit for responding to piracy), the incident gets reported, but many fleet ships either provide their own in-house security or contract with a Maritime Security Team provider, and under those circumstances, incidents are rarely reported.  The main reason for underreporting has to do with insurance costs, which have skyrocketed in recent years.  Other reasons include company embarrassment, concerns for privacy, avoidance of government meddling, and stock market dips.  This situation is not unlike the reasons for underreporting of cyber-crime and cyber-espionage.  Anyway, the customary approach to learning about pirate tactics is case study, but here, we'll go straight to the lessons learned and only mention a small number of select cases.

    One of the first tactical issues involves whether the pirate attack occurs at port or at sea.  According to McNicholas (2008), the split is about 50-50, so half of all attacks occur while a ship is at port, especially in Latin America (e.g., the ports of Buenaventura, Colombia and Guayaquil, Ecuador).  A portside attack means that ships are targeted at various locations between the Sea Buoy (usually 7 miles out) and the inner anchorage point while the ship is traveling at a slow rate of speed, for a long time, usually up some narrow passage.  The same pirate technique is used against outbound ships, often made easier when the crew forgets to pull up the Pilot Ladder.  Pirates have been known to crawl up the anchor chain or use a grappling hook, but only the most agile pirates can do this (most prefer a ladder, and they almost always board from the aft, or stern, and usually under cover of darkness).  It takes about five minutes to get all the pirates on board (they usually work in teams of 10), so there is only a small window of opportunity to discourage them by firing warning shots or releasing tear gas.  Pirates will not hesitate to shoot while boarding a ship.  During the boarding and escaping stages are when most of the killing occurs.  Traditionally, the naval maneuver of "boarding" doesn't involve violence.  The purpose is to rely on speed, stealth, and surprise to seize control before any resistance can be organized.  Very few modern pirates are capable of traditional, surreptitious boarding, however.  In the Niger Delta, Africa, it is not uncommon to see pirates attempt a surreptitious entry while dressed in military uniforms.  The 2009 case of the Finnish-owned ship MV Arctic Sea involved a successful surreptitious boarding with the pirates dressed as policemen.     

  When the attack occurs at sea, much of the violence occurs prior to boarding because the pirates will fire rocket-propelled grenades or other artillery from speedboats to indiscriminately kill people by shrapnel in an effort to get the boat to stop.  They will try to target crew quarters and try to avoid hitting the pilot tower.  This kind of attack usually occurs 500-700 miles off shore, and also usually during daylight.  A pirate mother-ship is nearby but usually out of sight.  Commercial shipping vessels usually have no artillery of their own, so they are relatively defenseless against this tactic.  McNicholas (2008) reports that the majority of seaborne attacks occur in Southeast Asia and Africa (and by Africa, he means Somalia).  Targeted vessels usually don't stop, so the pirates end up trying to board a moving vessel, which is tricky.  Therefore, their favorite targets are slow-moving barges or heavy tankers.  In 2007 alone, there were five cases of Somali pirates launching grenade attacks on Arab oil tankers (e.g., the IBN Younos).  In the case of a bulk vessel, it is likely the entire ship (if undamaged) is the target, as the pirates intend to repaint it and claim it as their own.  Otherwise, the goal is to steal cargo, electronics and navigation equipment, valuables from crew accommodations, and money from the captain's safe.  A captain's safe always has lots of money in it because of the need to pay tolls and customs.

    Another tactical issue involves whether pirates are getting more deadly or not, in terms of either marooning the crew (on a deserted island, as is pirate tradition, exemplified by the 2001 case of the MV Inabukwa off Singapore), ruthlessly killing the crew (as with the 1998 case of the cargo ship Chang Song in the South China Sea), or kidnapping the crew for ransom (e.g., the 2009 kidnap-and-ransom of a UK couple in their yacht the Lynn Rival on the Indian Ocean).  One should be hesitant about making definitive statements.  Most maritime security textbooks (e.g., McNicholas 2008) say that pirates are indeed getting more deadly, but IMB statistics (dating back to 1995) indicate that hostage-taking (i.e., kidnapping for ransom) overwhelmingly dominates the type of pirate violence against seafarers.  According to one of the many Kidnap & Ransom insurance companies (I won't say which one), the average pirate demand is $2 million per crewmember (but the mean settlement is usually less than half a million).  It's unknown how many times ransom is paid or unpaid, and/or how many times companies or families ask for military intervention.  Some evidence exists that hostages get killed or disappear even after ransom is paid, so it may be that attempted rescue or extraction is one's best bet.  Yet, there is a lot of temporal and regional variation.  The number of people killed by pirates fluctuates quite dramatically from year to year (this is the case with Somali piracy).  Also, regional differences exist in the form of kidnapping for ransom.  In Latin America, for example, criminologists refer to the practice as "express kidnapping" because its fairly easy in that region to negotiate a lower amount just to get the incident over with.  However, Latin America is birthplace of "the double" where a second payment is demanded after the first has been paid.   In Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and the Middle East generally, kidnapping for ransom is common but not that lucrative economically (as it is in Latin America) because as Briggs (2001) points out, the pirate gangs there tend to be populated by discontented youths who don't have a well-organized network for carrying out business.  In the Philippines, South China Sea, and former Soviet Union, however, there are usually organized criminal gangs or terrorist organizations who help provide the organizational network for ransom kidnapping to be carried out effectively (the same way such networks assist getting a re-painted ship re-licensed through corrupt government channels).  Ransom levels differ between countries.  Different market values also exist for different kinds of hostages.  A ship's pilot or business executive can demand millions but an American tourist or expatriate may go for as little as a few thousand.  Money-hungry, destitute pirates have also been known to kidnap local farmers and demand as little as $200 from the host government.  Pirates tend to "experiment" with the market value of hostages; e.g., some years, they focus on journalists; other years on aid workers, etc.  It seems to depend upon the state of the economy at the time.


    The piracy-terror nexus is intermingled with the crime-terror nexus, and it is almost impossible to be certain about either one except to say as some do (e.g., McNicholas 2008), that piracy seems a natural way of funding a terrorist organization and can grow out of an organized crime connection.  Can it be proven?  Who knows?  Clearly, when entire ships can be stolen by pirates, repainted and reflagged, new documentation issued, and the cargoes sold on the black market, this is indicative of a sophisticated and diverse international network of business contacts.  Transnational organized crime gangs are suspected, and terrorist groups are suspected when such activity occurs close to Asian and African countries with high levels of radical Islamist activity.  Perry et al. (2009) documented that al-Qaeda worked with Italian mafia groups in forging documents to get terrorist operatives into Europe.  Kunduz (2009) documented the many ways that Taliban-like groups tend to operate Mafia-style.  In fact, organized crime and terrorism appear to be learning from one another and adapting to each other’s successes and failures(Makarenko, 2004).  There may soon come a time when the "unholy alliance" (Shelley & Melzer 2008; Mincheva & Gurr 2008) between terrorism and organized crime takes place.

    Yet, what we are talking about is a "triple nexus" in the form of a piracy-organized crime-terror connection.  Mysterious case studies and anecdotal evidence only exist for a piracy-crime-terror (triple) nexus.  It’s long been rumored that al-Qaeda had secretly purchased a number of small, elderly and cheap ships like the Greek “Baltic Sky,” and was planning on using them for spectacular terrorist missions.  Former Fox News commentator, Mansoor Ijaz, has always claimed that al-Qaeda had a secret navy fleet (see cartoon below).

    The only documented instances of an al-Qaeda seaborne attack was the 2000 USS Cole bombing and the 2002 Limburg bombing, both off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.  After the Cole attack, Osama bin Laden boasted that al-Qaeda started receiving millions and millions of petrodollar donations.  After the Limburg attack (which involved blowing up an oil tanker and spilling oil all over the coast of Yemen), he issued the following statement:

"By exploding the oil tanker in Yemen, the holy warriors hit the umbilical cord and lifeline of the crusader community, reminding the enemy of the heavy cost of blood and the gravity of losses they will pay as a price for their continued aggression on our community and looting of our wealth."

    Some experts (e.g., de Borchgrave 2009) regard the Somalia pirates as al-Qaeda's navy.  After all, Al-Shabaab, who run Somalia are a known al-Qaeda affiliate who demand at least a 20% take from all pirate activity.  One of the ways they stay in power (besides manipulating clan politics) is by propagating the lie that mysterious European powers have dumped nuclear waste off the shores of Somalia.  They blame every rash, episode of nausea, and malformed baby on nuclear waste, not the fact that their nine million people teeter on the edge of starvation.  They also claim that their nuclear waste-infested waters are being systematically looted of fish by Western fisherman.  This is the context in which Somalia piracy operates.  They see themselves as defending their country from looting and dumping.

    Political justifications are nothing new to terrorism, but business is business in the world of organized crime.  Mafia-like groups exist all around the world which, for a fee, will be glad to assist in any sort of lucrative illegal operation.  Terrorist groups have proven they can support themselves just fine, without much outside assistance, in the world of smuggling (Shelley & Melzer 2008).  It remains to be seen if terrorist groups can break into the piracy business with or without organized crime.  Probably of greatest concern would be whether al-Qaeda affiliates in Southeast Asia, like Abu Sayeef or Jemaah Islamiya, can hook up with organized crime groups in that region.  In Indonesia, the guerrilla separatist group, the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), was known for using piracy.  Actually, terrorist groups that have made the most headway toward organized piracy have been non-Muslim groups, such as the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the IRA in Ireland, and Latin American druglords.


    The business of human trafficking in the form of stowaways is big business.  It is rarely done by a single individual, but involves groups of 20 or so who have either paid a professional human trafficking organization, are acting as a "mule" for drug smugglers, or have bribed a security official and/or a crew member.  Stowaways can also board during a "pirate attack" in which the attack is just a diversion for human smuggling.  This scenario is the one which piracy-terror experts think terrorist groups can use to smuggle terrorist operatives abroad.  There's no need to name countries that originate the most stowaways.  Any poor country will do where the people are desperate.  Anytime a commercial vessel is about to depart port from a poor country, at least 30 or 40 would-be stowaways are circling the waters around the ship and none of them move away with warning shots.  The most frequent means of access is climbing up the anchor chain, although professionals use the infamous "stowaway pole" (a bamboo pole with a hook on the end).  Another common means of access is the "love boat" which describes a water taxi filled with prostitutes hoping to service the crew of an anchored ship.  It's amazing the number of places a person can hide once aboard ship.  They hide in netting, in empty containers, cargo holds, tanks, tunnels, behind false panels, engine rooms, crawl spaces, cranes, and lockers.  Engine rooms, like the landing gear of airplanes, are not the best places to hide since the survival rate is only about 25%.  Hiding in sealed containers (the favorite technique of smuggling rings like the Chinese Snakeheads) is also dangerous because ventilation is not very good  Searches for stowaways can take 12-24 hours.  They are the number one cause of delays in shipping.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and Western Europe are the usual destination spots for stowaways.  Taiwan and Japan also have a notable problem with stowaways.  The other active area of the world for people smuggling is South Asia to the Middle East. 

    The typical stowaway is a male between the ages of 15-35 and of Asian descent (Latin America and Africa produce the next largest numbers).  They will have made multiple prior attempts, and will be carrying their own supply of food, water, and clothing.  According to McNicholas (2008), they will be nonviolent, so no resistance is put up when they are detected.  When stowaways are caught, they must be locked up, treated in a humane manner, given medical treatment when necessary (which is often), and turned over to immigration authorities when entering the United States.  Immigration authorities then fine the ship ($3000 per stowaway), and repatriate the stowaways to their country of origin, along with an escort at the shipowner's expense.  The repatriation of stowaways can be a very complex and costly procedure.  Some stowaways in recent years have avoided repatriation by seeking political asylum, but by law (18 U.S.C. 2199), they are subject to a $1,000 fine or one year in prison, or both.  Some big commercial shipping lines have their own private policy about stowaways which is to helicopter in a search team while the ship is at sea and repatriate the stowaways themselves.  This method is often cheaper than the government method.  One also sometimes hears reports of stowaways being thrown overboard.  This is often the case when a stowaway is found dead (not an uncommon occurrence).  Prevention of the stowaway problem has taken some unusual twists and turns.  In South Africa, specially trained dogs are used, and in other countries, tear gas is thrown into each and every container to flush the stowaways out.


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Last updated: Jan. 19, 2014
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O'Connor, T. (2014). "Piracy and Maritime Terrorism," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://www.drtomoconnor.com/3435/3435lect04.htm.