Harms of Maritime Piracy

Piracy is a serious crime that not only causes harm to the physical and psychological integrity of the affected seafarers, but also constitutes a significant and direct threat to international trade and security. Yet the broad palette of potentially serious harms associated with piracy has not been systematically assessed. Nor have the harms generated by counterpiracy initiatives been explored or such initiatives assessed in terms of their effectiveness in reducing harms. To address these gaps, we have recently embarked upon an ambitious research project, funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) and entitled, Piracy and its control: Assessing harms and appraising counterpiracy efforts across regional contexts“. The four-year project is led by Prof. Letizia Paoli at the Leuven Institute of Criminology at KU Leuven (Belgium) and conducted in cooperation with Prof. Tim Edmunds (University of Bristol/SafeSeas). Bryan Peters has been assigned as the principal researcher.

Research objectives

Our research objectives are as follows:

  1. We will provide a worldwide overview of the extent and trends of piracy incidents and their harms for the extent to which the latter are captured by existing statistics. We will do so, by updating and expanding Prof. A. Twyman-Ghoshal’s (2020) Contemporary Maritime Piracy Dataset;
  2. We will systematically assess and compare the harms of maritime piracy across multiple regional contexts. For such purpose, we will rely on a new methodology—the Harm Assessment Framework—developed by Paoli together with Victoria Greenfield, which has already been tested on several criminal activities, including Nigerian-based piracy (Peters, 2020 and Peters & Paoli, 2020). In the new project, we focus on four regional piracy ‘hot spots’: the Gulf of Guinea, the Indonesian Archipelago, Malacca and Singapore Straits and Somalia. For each, we aim to construct a “business model” (or script) of piracy, which includes identifying modes, principal phases, participants involved and accompanying and enabled activities. On this basis, in each context, we will identify and assess the harms of piracy. This is a multi-step process that includes a) identifying potential harm bearers and interest dimensions effected; b) assessing incidence of piracy and its harms; c) assessing harm severity; d) prioritizing harms based upon incidence and severity ratings and e) investigating causality (for more information on the Harms Assessment Framework, see Greenfield & Paoli 2013 and Greenfield & Paoli 2022). The last step of the second work-package will consist of comparing harms along these dimensions across the four selected contexts;
  3. We will analyse and compare the public policy plans and actual intervention efforts in and across contexts and let stakeholders preliminarily appraise the effectiveness of such policy plans and interventions in reducing harms and for which bearers; and
  4. We will develop recommendations to improve policy and interventions and specifically make both more effective in reducing total harm.

Project impact

Our project adds to the state of the art in a number of ways. First, it addresses a phenomenon that is largely under-studied in criminology but has considerable societal relevance. Second, the project updates and expands Twyman-Ghoshal’s (2020) dataset, providing a global overview of piracy incidents, patterns and harms. Third, it provides the first systematic, empirical and comparative assessment of the harms of piracy (and of harms associated with policy responses) in the four most affected regions and provides the baseline for evaluating current counterpiracy efforts. Fourth, the project provides a novel case study of the contemporary ‘governance of security,’ that is, the practices that governments and businesses use to pursue security and reduce harm, transcending traditional criminal policy (e.g., Johnston & Shearing 2003). By assessing which interventions reduce harm and for whom, the project will deliver lessons that will also be applicable to other crime-related security threats.

Find out more in our articles and commentaries:

  • Nigerian Piracy: Articulating Business Models Using Crime Script Analysis. Article in International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice in which crime script analysis is used to articulate detailed business models for each of the primary types of piracy identified in the waters of Nigeria (robberies, kidnappings for ransom and ship/cargo seizures) as well as attempted boardings/unspecified attacks. The formulation of the business models is the first step in conducting a systematic assessment of the harms of Nigerian piracy, the necessary foundation for completing a full policy analysis (Peters, September 2020).
  • Using Crime Script Analysis to Better Understand Piracy Manifestations. SafeSeas commentary in which we discuss the utility of using crime script analysis to study piracy, other blue crimes and non-traditional security threats (Peters, August 2020).   
  • Nigerian Piracy: A Systematic Assessment of Its Harms. Article in Acta Criminologica: African Journal of Criminology & Victimology where we apply the Harm Assessment Framework to identify the harms of Nigerian piracy and associated activities. (Peters & Paoli, December 2020).
  • Introducing a New Research Project: “Piracy and its Control: Assessing Harms and Appraising Counterpiracy Efforts Across Regional Contexts”. SafeSeas news announcement describing the project aims, research design and project impact (Peters & Paoli, November 2022).

For more information on the Harm Assessment Framework see:

For more information on the project, please contact Bryan Peters at: bryanchristopher.peters@kuleuven.be