Piracy in Australian waters is the act of attacking and robbing ships at sea. It has been a threat to seafarers for centuries. It is a significant issue around the world, impacting people traveling by boat in both coastal and international waters.
Maritime piracy is a significant problem in many parts of the world. In the first half of 2023, there were 65 instances of piracy and armed robbery against ships, up from 58 incidents in the corresponding period of 2022, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) 2023 report.
Australia is a nation that depends on maritime trade for its economic development, thus, any piracy that may exist is a serious problem. Moreover, piracy in the waters of Australia’s neighbouring countries is a concern for maritime security if it spreads near its waters.
Thus, Crimes Act 1958 of Victoria provides for laws that will punish the offenders of piracy in Australian waters. This article will discuss sections 70A to 70D of the Act.
Section 70A: Piracy With Violence
This section identifies when violence exists in committing piracy in Australian waters, particularly in Victoria. According to section 70A, there is violence when any person who intends to commit or at the time of or immediately before or immediately after committing the offence of piracy in respect of any vessel:
- assaults with intent to murder any person on board or belonging to the vessel; or
- wounds any such person; or
- unlawfully does any act by which the life of any such person may be endangered.
If the person assaults with intent to murder any person on board or belonging to the vessel, such offender is liable to imprisonment for a maximum of 20 years. If the offender only wounds or endangers their life, the court will fix the period of their imprisonment.
Section 70B: Piratical Acts
Section 70B identifies and enumerates what are piratical acts. These are:
- If the offender is an Australian citizen, he commits any piracy or robbery or any act of hostility or robbery against other Australian citizens on the sea under colour of any commission from any foreign ruler or under pretence of authority from any person.
- If the offender is on board any Australian ship, he performs the following acts –
- turns pirate, enemy or rebel, and piratically runs away with the ship, or any boat, munitions or goods;
- voluntarily yields up the ship, or any boat, munitions or goods to any pirate;
- brings any seducing message from any pirate, enemy or rebel;
- assaults the master of the ship in order to prevent him from fighting in defence of his ship and goods;
- confines the master of the ship; or
- makes or endeavours to make a revolt in the ship.
This provision imposes a level three imprisonment which is equivalent to 20 years in prison if the person is convicted of committing the above-mentioned piratical acts. However, the court may also determine the period of imprisonment depending on the circumstances and based on its sound judgment and discretion.
Section 70C: Trading etc. with Pirates
Trading with pirates is also an offence under the Crimes Act 1958 of Victoria. Section 70C specifies that any person who knowingly:
- trades with any pirate;
- furnishes any pirate with any munitions or stores of any kind;
- fits out any vessel with a design to trade with, supply or correspond with any pirate; or
- conspires or corresponds with any pirate,
is considered as trading with pirates and shall be liable upon conviction to imprisonment for 10 years.
Section 70D: Being Found on Board Piratical Vessel and Unable to Prove Non‑Complicity
Section 70D of the Act also presumes a person who is found on board a piratical vessel equipped for the purposes of piracy to be an offender. Moreover, it imposes a penalty of a maximum of 5 years imprisonment if such offender is found guilty.
However, there are two defences to the charge under this section:
- that he was not on board the vessel willingly; or
- that he did not know that the vessel was equipped for the purposes of piracy.
If the offender cannot prove their non-complicity, the penalty imposed by law takes effect.
Economic Impact of Piracy in Australian Waters
Piracy disrupts transport and trade flows as well as other economic activities, such as fisheries and energy production, thus potentially affecting the overall economy. Furthermore, the impact of ecological factors, such as overfishing and pollution, on the occurrence of piracy in Australian waters can also have an economic impact.
Legal and Regulatory Framework Governing Piracy in Australian Waters
There various legislations and government responses on the existence of piracy in Australian waters. Here are some of the frameworks:
- Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act 2003. The Act legislates Australia’s maritime security requirements including matters to be addressed in a Ship Security Plan and the reporting of security incidents, including piracy and armed robbery against ships.
Moreover, the Act is aimed at ensuring the safety and security of Australia’s maritime transport and offshore facilities and provides for the regulation of offshore facilities and the protection of the marine environment.
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS provides that all states have an obligation to cooperate in the repression of piracy and have universal jurisdiction on the high seas to seize pirate ships and aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board.
Want to Know More?
There are various types of piracy. It could involve murder, kidnapping for ransom, or armed robbery. Additionally, it could include potential crimes such as erroneous requests for payment for anchorage. Seeking the advice of a lawyer and knowing more about piracy laws can be a big help.
If you want to know more about laws about piracy in Australian waters, lawyers can help you understand these complex laws and regulations. Our lawyers at JB Solicitors can provide legal advice to piracy victims in Australia, including advice on their legal rights and options for seeking compensation or redress.
Contact us today.