Monday, 15 March 2010

Saudi Oil and Pirates

In November 2008, Somali pirates hijacked a supertanker hundreds of miles off the Horn of Africa, seizing the Saudi-owned ship loaded with crude oil.

Despite a number of military efforts to tackle the situation, systematic maritime piracy is growing. The lack of adequate legal instruments only exarcebates the problem.

It is fair to say that no significant international solution has been achieved. At domestic levels, countries have tried to create solutions in the best way possible.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia signed a major maritime code of conduct (the "Djibouti Code") that calls for a revision of national legislation to criminalize sea piracy.

The signing of this agreement is significant in view of the fact that the Kingdom is the world's main oil exporting country. Saudi Arabia's economy is essentially petroleum-based; roughly 75% of budget revenues and 90% of export earnings come from the oil industry. The oil industry comprises about 45% of Saudi Arabia's GDP.

95% of Saudi imports and exports pass through the Kingdom's seaports while sailing across the waters of different countries where pirates are active.

Although the Kingdom's move is to be welcomed, the wider duality of - uncoordinated - responses to piracy (domestic and international) is to be viewed with suspicion. The international nature of commerce requires a centralised and coordinated prophylactic solution to the problem - not mere scattered (and divergent) domestic criminal provisions.

The Code of Conduct only requires signatories to co-operate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships, with a view towards sharing and reporting relevant information through a system of national focal points and information centres. Each signatory intends to review its national legislation with a view towards ensuring that there are laws in place to criminalize piracy and armed robbery against ships, and adequate guidelines for the exercise of jurisdiction, conduct of investigations, and prosecutions of alleged offenders.

The Code retains some of the shortcomings of the UNCLOS definition of piracy.

The Code is a regional cooperation agreement. It appears to have no real teeth. Or if it does, it will experience many teething problems before it can ever bite.

We have dealt with maritime piracy from a bottom (domestic) up (international) approach. This method is clearly not working. What we really need is an authoritative top-down solution: the promulgation of an international treaty to be implemented in domestic legislatures. The Djibouti Code marks an important shift towards the right direction. But it lacks the strength needed to address a critical issue in international commerce.

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