Tag Archives: piracy

Sea Control 117 – Niger Delta Pirates Declare War?

seacontrol2Niger Delta violence returns as oil prices plummet and both the Nigerian government’s ability and willingness to pay off former militants decreases. As the Nigerian Navy moves to counter this new violence, a largely unknown group called the “Niger Delta Avengers” has responded by “declaring war” on the Navy. Dirk Steffen, who recently published a CIMSEC article on this development, joins us to discuss the current situation in the Gulf of Guinea, the militant threats, government capabilities & intentions, as well as the methods and background of these pirate operations. 

This is not the podcast to miss! It won’t make you an expert like Dirk, but he’ll have given us enough information to pretend to be one by the end of the podcast.

DOWNLOAD: Niger Delta Pirates Declare War?

West African Navies Coming of Age?

By Dirk Steffen

On 11 February 2016, fourteen Nigerian and Ghanaian pirates in two speedboats attacked the product tanker MAXIMUS (ex-SP BRUSSELS) 70 nm south of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. They hijacked the ship with the intention to steal part or all of its 4,700 metric tonne diesel fuel cargo, sailing it to a position ca. 300 nm south of Lagos, Nigeria over the next few days. The case ended with an opposed boarding of the tanker by the Nigerian Navy, which left one pirate dead and six apprehended; the remainder fled on their support vessel, taking two crewmembers of the MAXIMUS as hostages.

What began as just another product tanker hijacking developed into a model case for regional maritime security cooperation under the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. The first asset to track the hijacked tanker was the Military Sealift Command’s expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS SPEARHEAD, stationed in the region for training and exercise support as a part of the African Partnership Station. SPEARHEAD identified the hijacked ship and shadowed it for two days as it sailed from Ivorian into Ghanaian waters. Then the CTF 63, Capt. Heidi Agle, handed over to the Ghana Navy, which continued to shadow the ship until it crossed the extension of the maritime boundary to Togo, about 200 nm offshore at that point. While Benin and Togo were not able to mobilise vessels to that distance from the shore, Nigeria was.

USNS SPEARHED leaving Douala in March 2015 (Photo: Dirk Steffen).
USNS SPEARHED leaving Douala in March 2015 (Photo: Dirk Steffen).

On 17 February the MAXIMUS, now re-named MT ELVIS-5 by the hijackers, had reached a position about 300 nm south of Lagos, roughly north-west of the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. While an unknown mother ship had probably supported the actual attack on the tanker, another vessel, the small Cambodian-flagged tanker DEJIKUN, was likely used by the pirates in an attempt to steal part of the MAXIMUS’s cargo. The DEJIKUN was tracked heading south from Lagos on 16 February, arriving in the general area of the MAXIMUS on midday of 18 February.

The hijacking of the product tanker MAXIMUS and the tracks of the pirate support vessels between 8 and 19 February 2016 (source: MaRisk by Risk Intelligence).
The hijacking of the product tanker MAXIMUS and the tracks of the pirate support vessels between 8 and 19 February 2016 (source: MaRisk by Risk Intelligence).

Close on her tail was the Nigerian offshore patrol vessel NNS OKPABANA followed by NNS SAGBAMA. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Navy’s Chief of Training and Operations (CTOP), Rear Admiral Henry Babalola, obtained permission to operate in Sao Tomé and Principe waters although the MAXIMUS was technically in international waters (albeit inside the Sao Tome and Principe exclusive economic zone). What followed on 19 February were eight hours of negotiations via VHF before a Nigerian Navy boarding team from NNS OKPABANA boarded the MAXIMUS in the evening of 19 February. The pirates briefly offered resistance, before one of their number was killed and the remaining six on board the MAXIMUS fled into the engine room where they eventually surrendered.

Both from an operational point of view, especially with regards to regional co-operation as well as from a tactical perspective, the mission was a success. None of the MAXIMUS’s crewmembers were injured, although several pirates escaped with two hostages onto the DEJIKUN. The ship was later found drifting off Benin, abandoned by the pirates who had also taken the hostages with them.

Nigerian Navy SBS team (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back).
Nigerian Navy SBS team (Photo: German Navy/Steve Back).

The liberation of the MAXIMUS was lauded as a model of regional co-operation under the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, even though Sao Tome and Principe, a nation with virtually no maritime security capacity, never reported to Nigeria or to the relevant Zone D reporting centre in the region (contrary to the official statements) when the MAXIMUS or DEJIKUN entered her waters. Nigeria eventually asked for permission to pursue the MAXIMUS into the Sao Tome and Principe exclusive economic zone under a bilateral agreement, which in the end achieved its objective, but also exposed some of the still extant weaknesses in the regional framework and capacities.

While diplomatically relevant, the message that the operation sent to the criminals was equally important: Gulf of Guinea states are increasingly willing and able to suppress maritime crime. It may only have been a beginning, but it may well be that the prospect of a forceful naval intervention has upset the plans of would-be tanker hijackers at a time when the economic situation in Nigeria is becoming increasingly conducive to the theft and smuggling of fuel into the country.

For the navies of the region, especially the Nigerian Navy, success may become self-reinforcing. The Nigerian Navy has long labored under its dismal performance and reputation relative to its assets and manpower potential. It remains beset by corruption and inefficiency, but it appears that the change that the Buhari presidency has brought over Nigeria may have begun to affect the navy as well. The Nigerian Navy had already responded with some alacrity to the brief hijacking (turned kidnapping) of the LEON DIAS on 29-31 January, the attempted kidnapping of crewmembers from the SAFMARINE KURAMO on 5 February near Bonny River Fairway Buoy and more recently, assisting the BOURBON LIBERTY 251, which had two crewmembers kidnapped on 23 February 2016. In all cases, the Nigerian naval vessels arrived well after the attacks, although in the case of the SAFMARINE KURAMO the attackers had to abandon their attempt to extract the crew from their citadel and were forced to leave the ship. While not entirely satisfactory to those involved, it is progress over previous years. Before, the navy hardly ever responded to distress calls at all, and when they did, it more often than not created bad blood between them and the merchant marine community through heavy-handed practices.

It is likely that the response to similar incidents will remain hit-and-miss for some years to come, especially if the circumstances are less favorable than in the MAXIMUS case. The MAXIMUS episode benefited from the presence of the USNS SPEARHEAD, which was conveniently deployed in the area for the upcoming African Partnership Station’s OBANGAME EXPRESS 2016 exercise (17-25 March 2016) as well as from some serious tactical mistakes made by the pirates. However, amongst other contingencies, the OBANGAME EXPRESS exercise series rehearses responses to precisely this type of scenario. In a way, the incident therefore reflects the journey the navies of the regions have made since the inception of OBANGAME EXPRESS and it will surely provide interesting input for the upcoming iteration of the exercise. The Nigerian Chief of the Naval Staff (CNS), Vice Admiral Ibok- Ete Ekwe Ibas, has credited OBANGAME EXPRESS with meeting its objectives. His challenge will now be to follow up and maintain, as he said, the “resolve of the navy to deploy more ships to maintain the current record of sea patrol in order to tackle maritime security challenges.”

Dirk Steffen is a Commander (senior grade) in the German Naval Reserve with 12 years of active service between 1988 and 2000. He took part in exercises OBANGAME EXPRESS 2014 and 2015 both at sea and ashore for the boarding-team training and as a Liaison Naval Officer on the exercise staff. He is normally Director Maritime Security at Risk Intelligence (Denmark) when not on loan to the German Navy. He has been covering the Gulf of Guinea as a consultant and analyst since 2004. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone, and do not represent those of any German military or governmental institutions.

Book Review: Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea

Robin Geiss and Anna Petrig. Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea: The Legal Framework for Counter-Piracy Operations in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. Oxford University Press, 2011. 340 pp. $110 


By Alex Calvo

The Law of Counter-Piracy Operations: From Hollywood films to some Chinese popular perceptions of their Eastern neighbors, piracy and pirates retain a powerful hold in contemporary culture. However, it is their most recent incarnation in areas like the Gulf of Guinea, the Malacca Straits, and the Horn of Africa, that is carefully followed by anybody involved in maritime affairs, from ship owners and operators to naval officers and international lawyers. Among other aspects of piracy, the legal regime of pirates and operations against them is of the foremost importance, and therefore any volume devoted to them proves a welcome addition to the literature on the sea and what Julius Caesar labeled as “hostis humani generis,” or the enemies of humankind. This is exactly what Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea purports to be, and actually is: a single-volume treaty on the law applicable to counter-piracy operations, with a regional focus on Somalia and the Gulf of Aden. The book achieves the goals of providing a comprehensive approach to the subject, with plenty of primary sources, case law where applicable, and legal commentary on controversial or unclear aspects. While readers may note the absence of topics such as the rights of victims, the ransom industry, and non-Western legislation, this does not detract from the overall quality of the work, which furthermore contains a number of sources in its appendixes which can be very useful to the practitioner.

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As clear from the title, the subtitle, and introduction, this book seeks to provide the reader with a detailed explanation of the different legal regulations and principles under which piracy is fought in one of the corners of the world where it is most pervasive, and which, crisscrossed by myriad SLOCs (sea lanes of communication), no major power can ignore it. In connection to this, the first aspect of the text we should note is that this is indeed a law book, and perhaps more accurately a “black letter law” book, in the sense that it focuses on positive law, with just the minimum amount of social, economic, and other considerations provided in Chapter one and later interspersed in the text. When the authors delve outside the strict borders of the law, it is to better explain the rationale behind legal rules, a good example being their discussion of judicial and prison capacity in- countries like Kenya (p. 174-179) and the Seychelles, which supports and complements their explanation of the agreements signed between them and the European Union for the local trial and imprisonment of pirates. Having said that, they also discuss possible future developments of the law, such as specialized international tribunals to deal with piracy (p. 179-184).

A second important characteristic we may stress is the logical fashion in which the text is divided into parts, and then subdivided into chapters, which very much aids for the reader who wishes to go through the text from beginning to end, and those who prefer to go straight to one of the issues discussed in the volume. A third strong point is that, while focused on positive law, the authors stop to discuss areas where applicable rules may not be clear or even be controversial, providing a summary of arguments and their own views. An example is the practice of embarking law-enforcement personnel from one country on a naval (or state) ship of another, with the associated legal complexities.

This photo taken Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 provided by French Defense Minister shows suspected pirates arrested by Marine commandos of the French Navy in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia coasts. French government officials say the Jean de Vienne intercepted and captured 19 pirates Sunday as they tried to take over two cargo ships, one Croatian and the other Panamian. French Navy vessel Jean de Vienne is seen on background. (AP Photo/French Navy/French Defense Minister/HO)
This photo taken Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 provided by French Defense Minister shows suspected pirates arrested by Marine commandos of the French Navy in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia coasts. French government officials say the Jean de Vienne intercepted and captured 19 pirates Sunday as they tried to take over two cargo ships, one Croatian and the other Panamian. French Navy vessel Jean de Vienne is seen on background. (AP Photo/French Navy/French Defense Minister/HO)

The Book’s Strong Points: The text provides a comprehensive look at applicable legislation and extensive discussion of unclear aspects. As noted, the authors make an extensive effort to cover the different legal aspects of the fight against piracy, adding their commentary and summaries of other views where positive law is unclear or developing. Examples include three possible interpretations of Article 105 UNCLOS, providing universal or limited criminal jurisdiction, a conflict-of-law rule, or a reaffirmation “that prosecution is based on domestic criminal law and procedure” (p. 149-151), and a discussion of the differences between transfers and extradition, noting how generally speaking “in the piracy context, the change in custody is not brought about by the formal means of extradition” and “transfers in the piracy context do not fulfill the characteristics of deportations or exclusions.” (p. 192-194)

The Expanding Range of Somali Piracy
The Expanding Range of Somali Piracy

Three gaps: Non-Western Views, Piracy Victims, and the Ransom Industry and Middlemen

There are three aspects that, if incorporated in future editions of the book, may make this work even more complete. First of all, we should note a lack of Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Russian, and South Korean views, even though all these countries contribute to the struggle against piracy in the Horn of Africa. It would be interesting to find some legal commentary, domestic legislation, or actual cases, from these jurisdictions. Second, we cannot fail but note a complete and utter disregard for piracy victims, who are basically absent from the text. While the death penalty, torture, and the principle of “non-refoulement” are dealt with extensively (p. 210-220), there is no discussion of reparations for victims, and of their procedural standing other than when serving as a connection point for states to exercise jurisdiction.

The authors’ concern with the human rights of alleged and convicted pirates is commendable, and so is their extensive treatment of those rights in their book, but caring about the rights of the accused should not be seen as incompatible with at least providing some cursory explanation of those of the victims. Finally, another notable absence is that of the “middlemen” and more widely the “industry” managing ransoms, and their possible criminal liabilities. No look at the legal framework of the fight against piracy is complete without an examination of the rules and practice designed to strangle their finance, but despite the subject occasionally emerging in the pages of the book, there is no section specifically dealing with it. Is it perhaps too sensitive?

Conclusions: It is a useful and quite comprehensive study, though suffering from some gaps. We can thus conclude that this is a book that anybody interested in piracy and counter-piracy operations, the law of the sea, and more generally maritime and naval affairs, will find useful, both as a detailed introduction to the legal rules applicable to counter-piracy operations, and as a reference work. It is to be hoped, however, that future editions incorporate non-Western views, victims’ rights, and the law applicable to pirate financing.

Alex Calvo is a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan) focusing on security and defence policy, international law, and military history in the Indian-Pacific Ocean. Region. A member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and Taiwan’s South China Sea Think-Tank, he is currently writing a book about Asia’s role and contribution to the Allied victory in the Great War. He tweets @Alex__Calvo and his work can be found here.

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Piracy 2.0 : The Net-Centric Evolution

By Brian Evans

Network-Centric Warfare derives its power from the strong networking of a well-informed but geographically dispersed force. – VADM Arthur Cebrowski, Proceedings 1998

Almost twenty years ago the pages of Proceedings carried an article by RDML Cebrowski that introduced the concept of network-centric, or net-centric, warfare.[1] The concept transformed the manner in which the United States (U.S.) Navy operates and fights. The principles that defined net-centric warfare remain relevant as they support Navy’s current pillars of Information Dominance: Battlespace Awareness, Assured Command and Control (C2), and Integrated Fires. The success of net-centric warfare has not gone unnoticed. Navies around the world are working to develop their own net-centric solutions. As a result, the U.S. Navy should not be surprised when enterprising individuals around the world similarly take note and make the evolutionary leap from traditional piracy to net-centric piracy.

While piracy has been a scourge for the duration of human history, the technological advances of the 21st century provide potential pirates transformational means, methods and opportunities. While the world has yet to witness a case of net-centric piracy, the two scenarios below present possible piracy events leveraging today’s technology.

Basic Net-centric Piracy

Sixty-two nautical miles south east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1154C: An Indonesian pirate opens his laptop and logs onto the internet via satellite phone. His homepage is a commercial Automated Identification System (AIS) website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers.[2] The laptop, satellite phone and website subscription were all funded by his investors.[3] As he scans his homepage, he looks for AIS contacts that meet his desired vessel profile for cargo type, transportation firm, flag, and speed of advance. Today there are two AIS tracks of interest matching his profile and likely to pass through his preferred zone of operation, MV OCEAN HORIZONS and MW ORIENTAL DAWN. He then checks weather conditions and determining that they are favorable, he sends individual texts messages containing coordinate and track data for the AIS tracks of interest. The text recipients are two fishing boat captains, one located in Belawan, Indonesia and the other in Dungun, Malaysia.

Indonesian Pirates
From: The Maritime Executive – Indonesian Pirates

Forty-six nautical miles east of Belwan, Indonesia – 17JUL15 1646C: MV ORIENTAL DAWN passes a non-descript fishing boat 46 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia. Unbeknownst to the crew of the MV ORIENTAL DAWN, this fishing boat is captained by the pirate’s associate from Belawan. The fishing boat’s captain discretely observes the passing vessel through a pair of high-powered binoculars. Seeing barbed wire along the railings and an individual on the ship’s deck that does not appear to be a member of the crew, the fishing boat captain utilizes a satellite phone to call and report his observations to his Indonesian pirate contact. Based on this information the Indonesian pirate determines that MV ORIENTAL DAWN is not a suitable target.

One-hundred seventeen nautical miles east of Singapore – 17JUL15 1707C: The Indonesian pirate receives a call. This time it is the fishing boat captain from Dungun. The captain reports that the MV OCEAN HORIZONS is loaded down creating a smaller freeboard and there does not appear to be any additional security measures present. Given this assessment, the Indonesian pirate decides that MV OCEAN HORIZONS is a target of opportunity. He immediately has the crew of his ship alter course.

Thirty-seven nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0412C: The Indonesian pirate launches two high-speed skiffs from his ship, both carrying multiple armed personnel. The Indonesian pirate mothership remains over the horizon, but in radio contact while the skiffs conduct the remainder of the intercept.

Sixty-two nautical miles east of Pekan, Malaysia – 18JUL15 0642C: The armed personnel from the skiffs board MV OCEAN HORIZONS and catch the crew off guard. Once in control of the ship, they contact the Indonesian pirate via radio and report their success. The Indonesian pirate immediately opens his laptop and reports his success to his investors. He also lists the ship’s cargo for auction on a dark website and sends a ransom demand to the employer of the MV OCEAN HORIZON crew.

Sophisticated Net-centric Piracy     

Moscow, Russia – 17JUL15 0126D: After a series of all-nighters over the last week, a Russian hacker has gained access to a crewmember’s computer onboard the MV PACIFIC TREADER.[4] Using this access he maps the shipboard network. Discovering a diagnostic and maintenance laptop used for the ship’s automation and control system on the network, he quickly exploits the laptop’s outdated and unpatched operating system to install a tool on the automation and control system.[5] The tool enables a remote user to either trigger or disable a continual reboot condition. Once installed, the hacker posts the access information for the tool’s front end user interface in a private dark web chatroom.

Prague, Czech Republic – 16JUL15 2348A: Sitting in his Prague apartment, a pirate receives a message on his cellphone via a private dark web chatroom. The message is from one of several hackers he contracted to gain access to control or navigation systems onboard vessels operated by the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE. With the posted access information, he logs onto his laptop and tests his access into the MV PACIFIC TREADER automation and control system. After successfully establishing a connection he closes out of the tool and electronically transfers half of a contracted payment due to his hired hacker. Next using a commercial AIS website providing real-time track data from coastal and satellite receivers, he determines that MV PACIFIC TREADER is likely headed into port in Hong Kong.[6] Posting a message in a different private dark web chatroom, the pirate provides the identifying information for MV PACIFIC TREADER.

Hong Kong, China – 19JUL15 0306H: On a rooftop in Hong Kong, a young college student pulls an aerial drone out of her backpack. She bought it online and it is reportedly one of the quietest drones on the market. She also pulls three box-shaped objects out of her backpack. Hooking one of the objects to the drone, she launches it and flies it across Hong Kong harbor in the direction of a ship she identified during the day as the MV PACIFIC TREADER. Using the cover of darkness she lands the drone on the top of the pilot house and releases the object. Repeating this process twice more, she places the box shaped objects on other inconspicuous locations on the ship. After bagging up her drone, she posts a message to a dark web chatroom simply stating that her task is complete. Almost immediately afterwards she receives a notification that a deposit was made into her online bank account.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1732A: After eating a home-cooked meal, the pirate sits down at his laptop and checks the position of MV PACIFIC TREADER via the commercial AIS website he subscribes to. Observing that the MV PACIFIC TREADER is relatively isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, he opens the remote tool that provides him access to the ship’s automation and control system. He sends a text message and then clicks to activate the tool.

Two-thousand ninety-three nautical miles north east of Hong Kong – 26JUL15 0332K: Onboard MV PACIFIC TREADER an explosion engulfs the bow of the ships sending flames into the dark air. Immediately, the ship’s engines roll to a stop as the navigation and ship’s control system computers go into a reboot cycle. The lone watchstander on the bridge is paralyzed to inaction by the surprise and violence of the events unfolding around him. The Master immediately comes to the bridge, completely confused by the events occurring onboard his ship.

Prague, Czech Republic – 25JUL15 1736A: The pirate confirms via his remote tool that the ship’s automation and control system is in a continuous reboot cycle, then he re-checks the commercial AIS website and confirms that MV PACIFIC TREADER is dead in the water. He immediately sends an email to the TRANS-PACIFIC SHIPPING LINE demanding a ransom, stating MV PACIFIC TREADER will remain dead in the water and more explosive devices will be activated until he is paid.

New Means – Same Motive

These scenarios illustrate how the evolution of technology and the increased connectivity of systems and people potentially enable a fundamental shift in the nature of piracy. Despite the change in means and geographic distribution of actors, net-centric and traditional piracy both utilize physical force or violence, or the threat thereof, by a non-state actor to seize or detain a vessel operating on the high seas. The key enabler of net-centric piracy is the Internet.

Piracy Hot Spots

The Internet is the net-centric pirate’s “high-performance information grid that provides a backplane for computing and communications.”[7] Admiral Cebrowski argued that this information grid was the entry fee for those seeking net-centric capabilities.[8] What Admiral Cebrowski did not know was how rapidly the Internet would evolve and enable near-instantaneous global communications at relatively low costs, allowing anyone who desires access to a high-performance information grid.

As the net-centric pirate’s high-performance information grid, the Internet serves as a command and control network as well as the means for disseminating intelligence information, such as vessel location or the presence of physical security measures. The intelligence that is disseminated may also have resulted from collections performed via the Internet. One collection means is to leverage the vast area of private and commercial data sources available for public consumption, again at little or no cost, such as shipping schedules and AIS data. A second means of collection uses the Internet to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) via cyber techniques; however, only the most sophisticated net-centric pirates will possess this capability. Similarly, highly sophisticated net-centric pirates may be able to achieve global weapons reach by producing physical effects via cyber means over the Internet, eliminating the need for the pirate to be physically present in order to seize or detain a vessel.

Somali Pirates
From: OCEANUSLive – Somali Pirates

The attractiveness of net-centric piracy is the low barrier to entry, both in risk and cost. Since the Internet is the key enabler of net-centric piracy, its low cost and ease of use vastly expand the potential pirate population. The anonymity of the Internet also allows potential net-centric pirates to meet, organize, coordinate and transfer monetary funds with a great degree of anonymity. As a result, the risks of arrest or capture are significantly reduced, especially since a net-centric pirate may not be able to identify any of their co-conspirators. Similarly, the ability of net-centric piracy to enable remote intelligence gathering or even produce physical effects via cyber techniques removes a significant element of physical risk associated with traditional piracy. The monetary gain from the successful capture of a vessel compared to the low cost and risk currently associated with net-centric piracy make it an attractive criminal enterprise.

Countering Net-centric Piracy

The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) Article 101 defines piracy as:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. any act of inciting or of intentionally facilitating an act described in subparagraph (1) or (2).[9]

Under this internationally recognized legal definition of piracy, net-centric piracy clearly results in violence against or detention of vessels on the high seas for private ends. It is also clear from this definition that any activities associated with facilitating a piracy event, such as intelligence collection or compromising a vessel’s computerized control systems, are also considered piracy under international law. International law also states that “All States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.”[10] As a result, the international community must resolve how it will counter net-centric piracy, where pirates need not operate on the high seas and may be located thousands of miles from the target vessel.

The challenge facing the international community from net-centric piracy is compounded by immaturity of international cyber law. Currently the authorities and responsibilities of international organizations, governments and law enforcement agencies with regards to the use of the Internet to commit piracy are undetermined. This challenge is further complicated by the fact that the Internet is a manmade domain where all potions are essentially within the territory of one state or another. As a result, disrupting net-centric piracy operations will require a significant degree of international coordination and information sharing. Extensive international cooperation will also be required to identify, locate, and apprehend individuals involved in net-centric piracy.

From: Encyclopedia Britannica – Pirates utilize a range of weapons and technology

While an occurrence of net-centric piracy has yet to occur, the opportunity and capabilities required for such an event exist today. The U.S. Navy should not be caught off guard. Instead, the Navy should take the following actions:

  • Raise awareness within the international maritime community regarding the risks and realities of net-centric piracy
  • Provide best practice and limited cybersecurity threat information to transnational maritime shipping companies
  • Work with partner Navies to develop means and methods for disrupting net-centric piracy, including developing an appropriate framework for information sharing and coordination
  • Work with Coast Guard, law enforcement and international partners to develop a cooperative construct for identifying, locating and apprehending net-centric pirates
  • Engage with the State Department to advance international dialog on net-centric piracy, including the need for consensus on international law and processes for prosecution of net-centric pirates

An enduring lesson of human history is that opportunity for profit, regardless of difficulty or brevity, will be exploited by someone somewhere. Net-centric piracy represents an opportunity to generate revenue without requiring the physical risks of traditional piracy. The anonymity and distributed nature of the cyber domain also creates new counter-piracy challenges. Add to this the low cost and availability of unmanned system components coupled with the low barrier of entry for cyber, and the question becomes not whether net-centric piracy will occur but when. With a global interest in maintaining the international maritime order and ensuring the uninterrupted flow of commerce on the high seas, the U.S. Navy must be ready to meet the challenges of net-centric piracy.

LCDR Brian Evans is a U.S. Navy Information Dominance Warfare Officer, a member of the Information Professional community, and a former Submarine Officer. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds advanced degrees from Johns Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Naval War College. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Navy, Department of Defense or Government.

[1] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).


[3] “Somali Piracy: More sophisticated than you thought,” The Economist (November 2nd, 2013), http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21588942-new-study-reveals-how-somali-piracy-financed-more-sophisticated-you

[4] Jeremy Wagstaff, “All at sea: global shipping fleet exposed to hacking threat,” Reuters (April 23rd, 2014), http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/24/us-cybersecurity-shipping-idUSBREA3M20820140424

[5] Mate J. Csorba, Nicolai Husteli and Stig O. Johnsen, “Securing Your Control Systems,” U.S. Coast Guard Journal of Safety & Security at Sea: Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council, Volume 71 Number 4 (Winter 2014-2015).


[7] VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski and John H. Garstka, “Network-Centric Warfare – Its Origin and Future,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Volume 124/1/1,139 (January 1998).

[8] Ibid.

[9] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 101, 1994).

[10] United Nations, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (New York: United Nations, Article 100, 1994).