By Manushag N. Powell, Purdue University
The period after the Second World War and particularly after the Vietnam War, witnessed a resurgence of piracy and smuggling in South East Asia and the South China Sea. It was the result of political instability, imperial conflicts, and refugee crises. The difference was that now pirates had their own motorboats and a surprising amount of modern piracy involves fish.
Deep-sea fish piracy can take many forms, from poaching fish without a permit, to using illegal environmentally, damaging gear, to stealing the hall from other vessels nets, to actually attacking other fishing boats directly. Delicious Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, which is sold in U.S. restaurants as Chilean sea bass, isn’t especially appealing prize, for illicit fishing. A decent haul can be worth millions.
But while pirate fishing can mean big money, the crews are often forced men, or at least severely underpaid, and unable to leave or complain.
Fish thieves, whose takes may represent up to a fifth of the world’s international fish markets, are a widespread international problem, with no very clear solution. Their predation are under reported, hard to discourage, and harder to prosecute. Possibly the most famous such case, mostly because it actually has a well-known conclusion, involves the Andrey Dolgov.
After years of eluding capture, Andrey Dolgov was taken by the Indonesian navy, in February 2019, while entering the Straits of Malacca. This was a comparatively rare instance of successful international teamwork, and Interpol, investigation directed against a rogue collector of fish.
The pirate vessel in question had changed its name and its flag, at least half a dozen times, and it was the work of years to finally run it down. Most of its crew, largely Indonesians, were simply paid their wages following a little forceful encouragement from the Indonesian government and sit back home. Their claims that they had been tricked into working for the vessel were highly plausible after all.
The Russian and Ukrainian officers, were deported, only the captain was tried, and sentenced to four months in prison In Indonesia. He was offered no assistance by the Russian government, just as though they were invoking the old hostis discourse: a pirate has no nation and no citizenship protection.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Real History of Pirates. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
Indonesia: The Worst Effected
It’s not a coincidence that a known rogue ship that had escaped from China, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Tanzania, ended its career in Indonesia. Indonesia has suffered badly from illegal fishing, which has driven some of its own young men towards piracy. Its government has been more than firm in its stance against fish pirates so much. So that watching the navy scuttle, and blow up pirate fishing boats, is now something of a minor cultural industry.
Its 2016 demolition of the ghost ship F/V Viking, which was hunted by 13 nations, and dubbed the world’s most wanted illegal fishing boat, was widely publicized, televised, and tweeted . But Indonesia’s stance, is the exception that proves the rule.
IUU Fishing Vessels
Pirate fishing vessels are dangerous and messy to seize, disposing of them, their cargo can be an environmental quagmire, to say nothing of their crew. Many nations would prefer to avoid the bother they cause. The controversial Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, dedicates resources to tracking IUU fishing or, ‘illegal, unreported, unregulated’ fishing, something we can just simply refer to as fish pirates. Sea Shepherd calls their anti-IUU campaign, ‘Operation Treasured Islands’, but then their own flag, is a variant on the Jolly Roger with a trident and shepherd’s crook in place of cross boards. Sometimes their work is coordinated with international governments, and sometimes it’s in conflict with them.
The other problem is that not only are rogue IUU fishing vessels, engaging in one form of piracy. But greedy and improvident fishing, often provokes other retaliatory forms of piracy. In pockets near Malaysia, and the Philippines, areas with historically well-established pirate traditions, small scale piracy still crops up in response to fishing ships from other countries, especially those illegally using drag nets.
In Somalia and Nigeria, fishing violations, have been the catalyst for large-scale piracy plagues.
To conclude, piracy is more confined, relatively speaking, than it was in the 17th and 18th centuries. But it is still with us. It is still largely driven, as Peter Laird puts it, by greed and grievance in varying measures. Thanks to Tom Hanks as Captain Phillips, in the film of the same name, most people in the West have heard of the Maersk Alabama, and the resurgence of piracy, off the coast of Somalia—a resurgence that at least for the moment, is pretty well contained, but piracy exists elsewhere.
Common Questions about the Resurgence of Piracy
Deep-sea fish piracy can take many forms, from poaching fish without a permit, to using illegal environmentally, damaging gear, to stealing the haul from other vessels nets, to actually attacking other fishing boats directly.
Pirate fishing vessels are dangerous and messy to seize, disposing of them, their cargo can be an environmental quagmire, to say nothing of their crew. Many nations would prefer to avoid the bother they cause.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, dedicates resources to tracking IUU fishing or, ‘illegal, unreported, unregulated’ fishing, something we can just simply refer to as fish pirates.