In this day and age of technology and intellectual property, the term, piracy, in common parlance, typically means “unauthorized use of another’s production, invention or conception, especially in the infringement of copyright”. (Merriam Webster, 1828). Even this Open University has strict rules against such kind of piracy. This type of piracy abounds in the ASEAN, where it is deemed to be an “elegant crime” (Tanielian, n.a.)
Another type of piracy, which is also punishable under Philippine criminal laws, pertains to “robbery on the high seas”, (Merriam Webster, 1828). This type of piracy persists as a critical maritime security threat in Maritime Southeast Asia. Whereas in ancient times, main drivers of piracy were raiding for plunder and capture of slaves, in modern times, economic gains from receiving ransom and terrorism are now the main drivers. (Amri, 2013). Nonetheless, piracy still remains a people issue in Maritime ASEAN.
Maritime ASEAN has, since the 1980s, become one of the global “hotspots” of pirate attacks on merchant vessels and fishing boats. From simple “hit-and-run robberies” to long-term seizures and hijackings of merchant vessels, attacks on small craft including yachts and fishing vessels, there is a prevalence of attacks. These have become regular occurrences in some parts of Maritime ASEAN, such as in the Malacca Straits. However, these attacks are typically not reported to authorities, either out of fear of revenge by the pirates (due to victims’ lack of education) or because victims deem that reporting an attack would be of no real advantage to them. (Liss, 2007)
In addition to piracy, security threats also abound in the Tri-Border Sea Area (“TBSA”), which impact bilateral relations among Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Timor Leste. Illegal immigrants and illegal fishing have been the main irritants in the area coupled with the escalation of additional issues such as terrorism, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and smuggling of arms and goods. There is also an illegal movement of people in the TBSA, which poses illegal migration as a security threat especially between islands in Southern Philippines, Sabah and Indonesia. (Hoffmeister & Rueppel, 2014)
Combating these maritime crimes is rightfully a priority, as well as a challenge for ASEAN member states, since Southeast Asian waters are critical for ASEAN and international trade. While there is an emphasis on enhancing operational cooperation against maritime crimes, there is a need for an effective legal framework to combat piracy, especially in Maritime ASEAN. (Beckman & Roach, 2012)
On this point, I note that the ASEAN, as an organization, claims to maintain committed efforts in combatting maritime piracy, by sharing of best practices among jurisdictions, which complement Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore’s cooperative efforts to combat piracy in the Malacca Straits. The ASEAN also aims to combat such type of transnational crime through strengthened cooperation with dialogue partners. (ASEAN, 2006)
Strengthened cooperation and dialogue, however, will only go so far. Evidently, there is a need for a more definitive legal framework for the ASEAN to combat maritime and related crimes by ratifying and effectively implementing relevant global and regional conventions and harmonizing these with the enactment of more stringent domestic legislation in member states.
Merriam Webster. (1828, n.a). Merriam Webster Dictionary. Retrieved February 27, 2018, from Merriam-Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piracy
Tanielian, A. R. (n.a.). Piracy and Counterfeiting in ASEAN: An Elegant Crime? Retrieved February 27, 2018, from Scribd.com: https://www.scribd.com/document/121758398/Piracy-and-Counterfeiting-in-ASEAN-An-Elegant-Crime
Amri, A. (2013, December). Combating Maritime Piracy in Southeast Asia from International and Regional Legal Perspectives: Challenges and Prospects. Southeast Asia Rising! Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Southeast Asia (pp. 11-13). Kuala Lumpur: University of Wollongong Library.
Liss, C. (2007). The Roots of Piracy in Southeast Asia. APSNet Policy Forum (p. n.a.). Perth: Murdoch University.
Beckman, R., & Roach, J. (2012). Piracy and International Maritime Crimes in ASEAN Prospects for Cooperation. Singapore, Singapore: NUS Centre for International Law Series.
ASEAN. (2006, April 10). ASEAN.org. (A. Secretariat, Producer) Retrieved February 27, 2018, from ASEAN.org: http://asean.org/?static_post=asean-regional-security-the-threats-facing-it-and-the-way-forward-by-asean-secretariat
Hoffmeister, W., & Rueppel, P. (2014). Maritime Security and Piracy: Common Challenges and Responses from Europe and Asia. Singapore: Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung Ltd.