The History of Maritime Piracy in the Indian Ocean


Maritime piracy used to be considered as a security threat for the traders. In this modern age, actual piracy is very rare. Because Pirates need favorable conditions to succeed like weak states with accessible coastlines, disengagement by major naval powers, and rich cargoes passing nearby. Although maritime criminal activity still exists in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and elsewhere. But it is principally smuggling only.

Primarily in the Indian Ocean, we can see the piracy and the means are just speedboats. It is here that conditions are ideal for seaborne robbery. There are many weak or failed states along the Indian Ocean. In the narrow straits, islands and conflicted region of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand), there continue to be problems with piracy. However, it is to the West where piracy is of global significance.


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Maritime piracy:

Both the United Nations (UN)’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) currently use the definition of piracy as described in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

UNCLOS defines piracy as:


  • Any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
    • On the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
    • Against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
  • Any act of voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or of an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or aircraft; and
  • Any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (a) or (b).1

According to this definition, piracy is limited to acts outside the jurisdiction of the coastal waters of a state. Acts committed in coastal waters are considered an armed robbery. This means that many cases of violence against ships occurring in the territorial waters of states are excluded from this definition. This also excludes acts of maritime terrorism, as political objectives are not included in this definition.


1 UNCLOS part three Article 101 & 102


Maritime Terrorism: 

Maritime terrorism has no internationally agreed upon definition. Legal scholars have agreed on an operational definition of maritime terrorism based on Articles 3 and 4 of the 1988 Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA), even though the SUA Convention does not refer to terrorism specifically.

The Maritime Co-operation Working Group of the Council for Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP) focuses its definition of terrorism:

  1. Within the marine environment;


  1. Used against vessels or fixed platforms at sea or in port, or against any one of their passengers or personnel; and
  • Against coastal facilities or settlements, including tourist resorts. 2

Piracy was almost eradicated by the end of the 19th century but heightened again in the 1970s and 1980s. In many Third World countries, this period was known for freedom wars against former colonial authorities. Many of these wars had a maritime aspect and as result, several maritime terrorist aggressions were recorded.



Differences between Maritime Terrorism and Piracy

There are some similarities between pirates and maritime terrorists. Both of them operate the operation in the maritime environment using ships or boats. Their actions are mostly aimed at civilians and have a human cost linked to operations, and both groups can operate across borders. But still, they are not same there are some differences between them and it is important to distinguish between piracy and maritime terrorism in order to establish effective policies and counter-measures. Motives or aim, preferred targets, tactics and operational reach, are all factors where distinctions and similarities between pirates and terrorists could be noted.


Difference Between Maritime Piracy and Terrorism
Pirate’s motive of piracy-related with the financial purpose. Terrorist’s motive related to the political purpose.
As pirates’ motives are financial, it will affect the choice of target. Targets are chosen for their value and vulnerability.

Vessels that are easy to board with a small

Terrorists choose vessels with a symbolic value, where casualties might be higher or for the vessel’s potential use as a weapon.


2 The Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific


the crew will be a preferred target.
Another distinction is the use of violence. In most cases, pirates try to prevent loss of life for fear of retaliation by foreign navies. Currently, foreign navies in Somalia do not interfere with ships once they have been pirated because of the risk piracy holds to human life. The opposite is true for terrorists where publicity usually increases with greater loss of human life.
Pirates make use of simple tactics, while terrorists use more sophisticated tactics. Piracy also takes place at local or regional level. While terrorists can have a more global reach in terms of objectives. There are, however, terrorist groups that operate only at the local or regional level and aim to fulfill political agendas at the local level, such as the LTTE, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM) and ASG.
Pirates normally try to avoid attention. But terrorists seek attention to promote their cause.


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The History of Piracy in the Indian Ocean:

Ever since the dawn of maritime navigation, piracy has forever been constant since it’s solely the extension of the act of taking another’s possessions by force. the invention of a route to what was referred to as at the time, “the Indies” by Vasco prosecuting officer Gama in 1497 and a number of years before the invention of America by St. Christopher Colombus in 1492 solely amplified the development and attracted abundant interest. It should be same that Vasco prosecuting Officer Gama himself committed some barbarous acts throughout his expedition, among those acts of piracy against unarmed Arab businessperson ships and therefore the firing of his cannons on the cities of the Republic of Mozambique.

After the death of the powerful Charles of Habsburg, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, conjointly famous beneath the name of Charles V in 1558, wars of progression isolated Europe and energized the opposition among nations for the procurement of products originating from the Indies and the Americas. These progressing pressures supported the spirit of business assaulting that was the sanctioned piracy of enemy ships. Often, non-public ship house owners or ex-military would press on offensive expeditions on behalf of their country against its enemies.

In this modern age, piracy has been in decline over the last two years in the Indian Ocean after the Somali pirate incidence, it seems likely this is only a temporary low tide that will return crashing on the beach once the attention of the world is elsewhere.

Somali Piracy in the Indian Ocean:


Pirate attacks within the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean surged in 2008 and by Gregorian calendar month, 2011 over 700 hostages and thirty vessels were being controlled by Somali pirates.  In recent years piracy activity within the region has fallen to shut to zero as a result of counter-piracy service patrols, sea security groups, and alternative protection measures enforced by the shipping trade. However, the threat of piracy within the region remains a priority. EU service Force (Somalia), Major General Rob Magowan CBE, has reiterated the necessity for continued vigilance confused once this latest attack.

“This attack shows that pirates still have the intent to attack ships for ransom and cause misery to seafarers and their families,” says Major General Magowan. “It is imperative that the international community remains wakeful. The EU service Force is functioning with counter-piracy partners to coordinate efforts to confirm pirates don’t yet again terrorize the waters off the Somali coast.”

The counter-piracy activity EU NAVFOR African country additionally referred to as Operation Atalanta, has been active ocean off the Horn of Africa and within the Western Indian Ocean since 2008. The mandate for operation is present runs to December 2016.


Famous pirates the Indian Ocean 

We all know about the Caribbean pirate Jack Sparrow. We fantasized about him and his ship pearl. In movies, it is shown that their hearts are made of gold, not their treasure. Their crimes are minimal, and in the end, they show courage and goodness that would have been shocking to the actual pirates of the Caribbean. There was some actual famous pirate’s existence in the Indian Ocean also. As this area was dominated by colonial powers both the French and English were affianced in business raids in the Indian Ocean. The Mascarene Islands, a part of those Mauritius and Reunion and as well Madagascar and the endless islands of Seychelles were accepted to harbor pirates and corsairs.


Some acclaimed pirates of the arena were:

George Booth, from the United Kingdom. One of the ancient alive pirates in the Indian Ocean. Died in 1700.

John Hasley, a bandit from the American colonies who became a charlatan if his letter of marque expired. He sailed appear Madagascar in 1705 and died there in 1708.

William Kidd from the United Kingdom. First, a bandit again became a charlatan in 1697 and sailed abreast Madagascar. The United Kingdom had him hanged in 1701.

Olivier Levasseur accepted as “La Buse”, A French bandit, who became a pirate. Based in Réunion Island area he was again hanged and buried. According to legend, he was active at the abyssal cemetery of the collective of Saint-Paul in 1730. The day he was to be hanged, he threw a coded bulletin into the crowd. To date, the cipher was anytime able to break it. The bulletin allegedly indicates area his wealth was buried.

Of course, one automatically anticipate about treasures whenever pirates are mentioned and the Islands of the Indian Ocean are not allowed to the legends of active or hidden loot, mainly because of La Buse’s coded message. Some covers or abandoned tribute and caves of the islands of the Indian Ocean are sometimes the capacity of rumors of hidden treasures as apparent by the books of the Mauritian columnist Jean-Marie Le Clézio: “Le chercheur d’or” and “Voyage à Rodrigues” which chronicle the adventures of his grandfather, a treasure-hunter.


Alma Siddqua Rothi

MSS student, Center for South Asian Studies, Pondicherry University, India.

studied, International Relations, Jahangirnagar University, Bangladesh.




  1. What is maritime security? Christian Burger Department ofPoliticsandInternationalRelations,SchoolofLawandPolitics,CardiffUniversity,ParkPl ace65-68,Cardiff,WalesCF103AS,UK
  2. The decliningimpactofpiracyonmaritimetransportintheIndian Ocean: Statisticalanalysisof5-year vessel tracking data Michele Vespe n, HarmGreidanus, Marlene Alvarez Alvarez European Commission, Joint Research Centre
  3. The international legal instruments in addressing piracy and maritime terrorism: A critical review Nong Hong
  1. Maritime Security and Safety- Michele Ameri and Michael Shewchuk
  2. The Extent OF Maritime Terrorism And Piracy: A Comparative Analysis- Lydelle Joubert
  3. Wayne Bowen- Piracy in the Indian Ocean: Perils on the high seas

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