Piracy in the maritime world is a reality with a history of hundreds of years, being sometimes prosecuted and other times protected by the institutions of the countries present in the different maritime areas around the world. We have been currently witnessing the fact that this phenomenon is still alive and that it is a way of extorting not only companies and individuals, but also governments of those countries that have to address these unlawful actions in the most thorough manner taking always into consideration the vessels’ safety, but above all the welfare of their crews.
Focusing on our own most recent experience, we know that there have been several pirate attacks in waters of the Indian Ocean against Basque fishing vessels, in particular the “Txori Argi” and the “Haizea Lau”, which only demonstrates that, while the pirate attacks at sea do not attract the spotlight of the news worldwide as they used to some years ago, piracy is by no means eradicated. In fact, and talking here on global scale, the incidents associated with this phenomenon far from being diminishing on the contrary have been increasing according to the report of International Maritime Bureau (ICC) which signals that there were 201 incidents of maritime piracy recorded during 2018 compared with the 180 incidents recorded the year before.
These incidents experienced last year, hijackings and kidnappings committed by pirates, whose target were not only cargo and container vessels, including the vessels of the UN organization involved in international aid programs for countries in specific critical situation, but also, to a larger extent, fishing vessels.
Piracy actions that have been recently concentrated on a mayor scale in waters of the Gulf of Guinea, an area that seems to have taken over what happened in the previous years on the Somalia coastline as the recorded incidents dabbled there in 2018 compared with the year before. In fact, waters of Somalia are enjoying a “relative peace”, at least in comparison with the situation in previous years, basically due to two circumstances. On the one hand, the massive deployment of the so-called “Operation Atalanta”, in which Spain is an active participant, and whose main objective is to protect the maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean against the acts of piracy and, on the other hand, due to the own security measures taken by the vessels, such as the established operating procedures in case of a piracy attack and the presence of private security companies on board. Yet, the navigation close to the Somalian coastline still requires extreme caution on the part of the shipowners and their crews, as demonstrated by what happened with the fishing vessels “Txori Argi” and “Haizea Lau” this year, and which prevents us from excluding Somalia from the areas of risk.
If we look to the future, we can foresee that piracy, as we know it today, will gradually disappear as the navigation of autonomous vessels and vessels piloted by a remote control from a ground base (unmanned vessels) will become a reality on our seas and oceans, developing thus a new way of maritime navigation.
If we focus on this hypothetical scenario, it might be concluded that new cyber pirates could operate from any place around the globe without any need to be on-site and even without need to be a member of an organization, so that military deployments and private security companies on board, which are nowadays common means of deterrence and protection, could not be used as the main guarantors of a nonviolent navigation. The fight against piracy, which will, one way or another, continue being a present and future threat, will have to be adjusted to the scenarios that may evolve, as well as it should be the legal systems of the countries affected by this reality.
Accordingly, it should be noted that if the control system of an unmanned vessel were intercepted from distance by means of technology and for illicit purposes, it is certain that such situation would not fit in with the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Montego Bay) related to piracy, since the convention specifies that such acts should be committed through the intervention of the crew or the passengers of a vessel and directed against another vessel. Furthermore, if we examine the crime of piracy after the amendment introduced by the Organic Law 15/2003 of 25th November, the current Criminal Code requires that a seizure of a vessel be preceded by an act o violence, intimidation or deceit and therefore the above mentioned situation (with no violence, intimidation or deceit due to the use of virtual means) would remain, at least at the beginning, out of the current criminal penalization.
To sum up, in accordance with the current regulation, it could be concluded that the possible future acts of piracy that were mentioned above would not be considered but cyberattacks with the application of the provisions for cybercrime and other common criminal definitions provided for in the Criminal Code in accordance with the particular circumstances of each case (misappropriation, damages, etc.). This is, however, insufficient since the future acts of piracy might involve, beside a cyberattack for specific purposes, an offence against the safety at the sea and navigation, a legal interest that the crime of piracy aims to protect.
Thus, we find it necessary to review the concept of piracy, so that it encompasses other scenarios that are currently not covered, such as cyberattacks against unmanned vessels, and that these cases remain not restricted to the category of computer specific crime and other offences. We, from our law firm as a team of professionals of the sector and due to our experience, consider that it is convenient, from now on, to be aware of the new forms of piracy, which might already be a reality, and hence to adjust the regulation and the strategies to be followed without delay in order to stay ahead and protect adequately vessels and their crews.