The Heritage Foundation

News Releases on Asia

June 23, 2000

June 23, 2000 | News Releases on Asia

Pirates In Asia a Growing Threat to Global Trade

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2000-Masked pirates armed with military-style weapons and speed boats are terrorizing commercial shippers in Asian waters at an increasing rate, threatening nearly half of the world's shipping and creating a non-tariff trade barrier for American businesses, a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

Attacks against commercial ships have tripled over the past decade, with 285 reported cases last year alone, says Dana R. Dillon, a Southeast Asia policy analyst in Heritage's Asian Studies Center. Nearly two-thirds of those attacks occurred in the pirate-infested waters of Asia, through which 45 percent of the world's shipping moves.

Acts of maritime piracy range from the classic boarding and hijacking of a merchant vessel on the high seas to the more common act of stealing from a ship while it is anchored. Pirates usually target the ship's stores, safe, and the crew's valuables. While few pirates attempt to steal a ship or its primary cargo, almost all reported acts of privacy involve armed intruders who threaten and often injure, kidnap or kill members of the crew.

The Clinton administration has made some efforts to combat the problem-such as holding regional seminars on the issue-but they are insufficient, the analyst notes. The United States has not helped institute security guidelines to protect Asian ports, where 70 percent of piracy acts occur. Safer ports will lead to fewer piracy attacks, resulting in lower shipping costs and insurance fees, Dillon says.

Dillon recommends the administration and Congress take several low-profile and low-cost steps to help America's trading partners combat privacy:

  • Encourage governments in areas most affected by piracy to publicly report all steps taken to combat piracy to make it clear criminals will be arrested and to dispel any notion of complicity.
  • Recommend that the International Maritime Organization establish specific port security measures, and that Asian countries reform their maritime security forces, particularly in Southeast Asia.
  • Authorize funds for the U.S. Coast Guard to train foreign maritime organizations to fight piracy.

"The administration must convince the governments in regions most affected by piracy to demonstrate, clearly and purposefully, their determination to stem the incidence of maritime piracy, to crack down on corrupt maritime forces, and to secure their ports and waters from the threat of piracy," Dillon says.

About the Author

Related Issues: Asia