I have written about this subject before as an urgent issue of security, and surely the topic of piracy must be at the top of countries’ security agendas now that a large oil tanker has been seized. It makes me wonder what insurers such as Lloyds of London must think: surely, if shipping fleets want to keep insurance premia down, an obvious solution must be to arm, or better protect, such vessels. I do not know what the law is about whether ships, operating in international waters, on carrying weapons on board merchant vessels. In centuries past, vessels of the East India Company, for instance, were frequently as well armed as many naval vessels. They had to be.
If this problem gets worse, then it is not just the navies of the western powers, such as those of Britain or the US, that might have to think about protecting shipping routes more aggressively. I think that the rising economic power of India must take on more responsibility to guarding some of the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. India, after all, is a prime beneficiary of globalisation and global trade. For that matter, China probably will have to think about protecting its shipping more effectively, as must jurisdictions which engage in much ship-borne trade such as Singapore and Australia and Brazil.
One of the reasons why a strictly isolationist foreign policy does not work is that in the real world, the web of global trading routes from which we all benefit have to be protected. Free market transactions must be protected against predators. That means things like naval bases or agreements between states to protect certain shipping routes, for example. If states cannot do this, but somehow expect merchant ships to continue conveying the goods which drive the world economy, pressure to let merchant ships carry weapons will be irresistable.
Some time ago, I read the Frederick Forsyth novel, The Afghan. I won’t give away the plot but piracy is a key part of it. Any security policy, including an anti-terrorist one, must take account of seaborne threats. It might seem rather obvious to point this out in an island nation like the UK, but a large proportion of our economic produce is conveyed over the wet stuff. If the anti-terror experts have not addressed themselves fully to this issue, they had better start doing so. Maybe this hijacking might have a galvanising effect.
Here is what the US navy has been doing.