When it comes to discussing the concept of maritime security, the concept can be discussed in a variety of contexts. Broadly defined, maritime security concerns the protection of states’ land and maritime territories, and is affected by a broad range of illegal activities, including arms, drugs, and human trafficking, illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and pollution at sea. But, such acts only tends to get media coverage when pirates are involved.

African maritime security is particularly severely affected by maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea. Maritime piracy is not a new phenomenon; it has existed for as long as people and commodities have traversed the oceans. Under article 101 of UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, piracy is defined as:

“Any acts of violence, detention, or depredation committed on the high seas by the crew or passengers of a private ship or aircraft against another ship, aircraft, persons, or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state for private ends.”

Two maritime regions are chiefly troubled by maritime piracy: the Gulf of Aden to the East of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea to the West. The most common form of modern-day piracy and armed robbery at sea in both Gulfs is the hijacking of ships, with a focus on kidnapping and ransom payments. Aside from national and regional effects, maritime piracy and armed robbery at sea are considered a threat to the global economy. From an economic point of view, maritime piracy is a threat for regional and global economy, as Africa’s key maritime routes (Sea Lanes of Communications) are affected adversely. Over 90% of Africa’s imports and exports are moved by sea. While it is difficult to quantify the exact cost of piracy on the two Gulfs, the costs incurred are nevertheless significant.

Therefore, in order to protect the territorial waters, primary trade routes, EEZs, and ensure sustainable exploration of marine resources, significant law enforcement capacities, information sharing tools, and working maritime governance structures are required. Subsequently, national states, regional actors, and international communities are dedicated to fighting maritime piracy in Africa. Various regional cooperation structures, such as the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC), the African Union’s Lomé Charter, and the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, are functioning as the basic structure for anti-piracy efforts on the continent.

Modern day maritime piracy primarily affects three regions of the world: Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Whereas attacks on vessels were relatively uncommon in Latin America and Caribbean just few years ago, Southeast Asia had already seen a decade of violent attacks in 1990s. However, the number of pirate attacks is falling steadily in Southeast Asia.

From 2013 onwards, there has also been a significant drop in international piracy due to the falloff in Somali-related attacks on Africa’s east coast. This is in large measures, a result of a successful multi-national effort to patrol these waters. Concerted actions by regional and international naval forces has reduced the problem of piracy in Gulf of Aden.