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Home Articles posted by Dr. Juan Pablo Pérez-León Acevedo

International Law and Maritime Terrorism

Published on November 19, 2019        Author: 

 

The death of the Islamic State’s (IS) leader (27 October 2019), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a US operation in Syria has again put international terrorism at the centre stage. Precisely, this blog post discusses a manifestation of international terrorism: maritime terrorism. As evidenced below, analyses of maritime terrorism are relevant in international law and policy. Yet, maritime terrorism has received limited attention, arguably because most terrorist attacks take place on land or aircrafts. This post aims to draw attention to this key and topical issue and has two parts: a discussion on the need to create a category of maritime terrorism as an international crime, and an analysis of difficulties related to the definition of maritime terrorism as an international crime. Despite its focus on maritime terrorism, the post also applies to international terrorism at large.    

Urgency of creating a category of maritime terrorism as an international crime

Two reasons arguably demand the crafting of maritime terrorism as an international crime. A first reason is that international terrorist groups such as the IS and, sometimes, allegedly state-sponsored individuals have committed a number of maritime terrorist attacks during the last decades, leading to related state and international practice. For instance, on 23 September 2019, a group affiliated with the IS in the Philippines aboard two pump boats ambushed and seized three fishermen off the coast of East Sabah (Malaysia). Indeed, maritime terrorist activities in the Malacca and Singapore Straits have prompted The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia via a Trilateral Cooperative Agreement (2017) and ASEAN to act. There is also a bilateral agreement between the Philippines and India (October 2019) aimed to strengthen their ties to ensure maritime security, particularly as for maritime terrorism. Earlier this year (May 2019), four Saudi oil tankers, one bound for the US, were attacked following warnings that Iran or proxies could target shipping although the Security Council (SC) fell short of blaming Iran. These examples illustrate the current relevance of analyses of maritime terrorism under international law. It was indeed a maritime terrorist attack that prompted the adoption of the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation (SUA) (1988). The Achille Lauro, an Italian-flag cruise ship, was seized by Palestine Liberation Front members (October 1985). They held the ship’s crew and passengers as hostages, threatened to kill them, and demanded Israel to release 50 prisoners to spare the hostages. In the post 9-11 era, a number of maritime terrorist attacks have occurred, including Al-Qaida attacks against the US destroyer Cole in Yemen (2000), a French oil tanker in Limburg (2002), and an offshore oil terminal in Iraq (2004), as well as an IS-affiliated group’s attack on an Egyptian vessel in the Mediterranean Sea (2015). Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: Terrorism