When is a Pirate a Pirate? The Evolution of Piracy and Maritime Sovereignty

Sam Rohrer


Creating a simple and direct definition of maritime piracy is something that states have struggled with for centuries. The contemporary division of maritime crime into maritime armed robbery in domestic waters, and maritime piracy in international waters may appear arbitrary. This is especially true as there are two competing definitions of maritime piracy. The first is from the United Nations which draws on centuries of legal precedent and concern regarding state sovereignty and the attempt to balance the independence of states with the shared responsibility of ensuring a global public good. In this case, that is the ability to conduct unhindered interstate maritime trade. The second, advanced by the International Chamber of Commerce, considers maritime theft in both domestic and international waters to be acts of maritime piracy. While the contemporary definitions of maritime crime advanced in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea may contain technical weaknesses and enforcement remains difficult, they should not be dismissed.

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