Over the last twenty years, maritime piracy has spiked dramatically. Even with the sharp decline in attacks registered in 2013, there were nearly double as many incidents as in 1993. The increase has been driven in part by an increase in international shipping activity, which creates more potential targets to interdict. However structural conditions on land have also played a role. For a host of littoral nations, the last 20 years have witnessed a decline in government capacity, scarce job prospects for many youth, and the emergence of non-state armed groups – insurgents, militias, and gangs – in control of coastal areas.

Even while Somali piracy which made the headlines for the last few years is dissipating, the larger threat of maritime crime is here to stay. Attacks have increased in the Gulf of Guinea and in the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca.

The structural conditions which facilitate piracy – weak state control, availability of weapons, a dearth of economic opportunities – are present in many of the world’s littoral states. The world’s shorelines are increasingly crowded with dense urban eco-systems. Many of these cities are barely controlled, with formal governance institutions playing only a glancing role in the actual life of the city. Thick networks of gangs and criminal organisation have moved into these areas, pursuing illicit and peri-illicit business opportunities with little fear of arrest or interdiction. The most organised and ambitious amongst these groups are likely to begin to move offshore, targeting the lucrative opportunities for hostages, cargo, and bunkered oil that sit off their coastline. The latter target, in particualr, hints at a final structural condition that is likely to propel piracy in the coming years. The global search for oil is increasingly occurring offshore, clustering high-value vessels and equipment in easily identifiable zones.

Modern day piracy is defined by innovation and professionalisation, increasingly linked to transnational organised crime groups, and fueled by opportunity and economic desperation. It is also financially draining for the international economy, a reality driven home by the high systemic costs of Somali piracy.

The Global Initiative endeavours to support international policy making to combat the threat of maritime piracy by monitoring trends and evolutions in the criminal practice, and to support dialogue on the necessary responses to prevent piracy becoming a systemic global challenge.

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