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Speaking with Bob Haywood of Oceans Beyond Piracy

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In a distinguished career centred on the development of special economic zones in emerging nations – a career that has taken him from China to Tanzania, Vanuatu to Iraq – Bob Haywood has focused much of his attention on getting government out of the way. His belief in the potential for better global governance led indirectly to the creation, in 2009, of the Oceans Beyond Piracy program, in which he advocated for greater collaboration between governments and non-government players in the maritime industry.

More recently, Mr. Haywood has expanded his focus on greater global governance beyond the maritime industry after being named the first executive director of the One Earth Foundation, the focus of which is to reduce armed violence through better global governance. He won the job after writing a proposal on how to create peace within 100 years.

In Mr. Haywood’s opinion, the problem with international relations is that it is really just government relations. “It’s the only part of society left where violence is still an acceptable means of settling disputes,” he said of inter-state relations. The main players are state governments – leaving civil society and commercial society woefully underrepresented.

This state-controlled grip on regulating the maritime industry is largely to blame for the current state of piracy, Mr. Haywood argued. Treaties are outdated. Coastal states – like Somalia and Nigeria – are not always equipped to counter piracy. Many flag states – especially states with flags of convenience – cannot live up to their obligations to protect vessels flying their colours because most don’t even have deepwater navies. And with varying degrees of regulations among countries regarding self-protection and the carriage of firearms, Mr. Haywood said he believes the system needs to be reimagined.

Piracy is not just a regional problem – it’s a global problem that continues to be addressed regionally through piecemeal politicking. OnboardOnline recently sat down for lunch with Mr. Haywood to discuss piracy, global governance and even the prospect of world peace.

OnboardOnline: Your proposal for ending global violence – can you explain how you see that coming about?

Bob Haywood: “You can look at it two ways. Environmentally, we know that when there’s a single species, that’s pretty hazardous. It’s unstable. When you look at international relations, the only group to populate international relations is states. And I think there needs to be more diversity of players in international relations – not just states. At the domestic level, we know that we need civil society, commercial society and government to create a stable society. You can’t create a stable society internationally unless you get more players.”

OO: So you believe we need to find a way to include other sectors of society, like civil and commercial society, in international talks?

BH: “Academics criticize the term, but I happen to like it, which is, ‘Non-territorial sovereigns’: People who have an authority over a domain or issue, but don’t have authority over a geographic territory. I’m saying like the world of financial management, international exchange management, piracy, control of international commerce. You need to have a group that’s made up of government, industry, civil society, labour unions, come together to create a framework of rules that all nations abide by. The best example of this is the Olympics or FIFA. They’re not government organizations, but governments abide by their rules if they want to take part in the Olympics.”

OO: With that idea of global governance is the notion that siding with international treaties is forsaking national sovereignty – something many people, especially in the United States, are against.

BH: “Of course it is. Any meaningful international agreement reduces the sovereign’s flexibility – no doubt about it.”

OO: The question then becomes: How do you convince that contingent of society to accept the idea of global governance?

BH: “You trade off your benefits and your losses. Every treaty ever signed gives up sovereignty. You agree with another sovereign that you’re not going to engage in certain conduct. It’s just a matter of whether you want to operate as an autocracy and not deal with anybody – then perhaps you maintain your sovereignty. But even then the pollution from China is going to affect the United States. And piracy off Somalia affects U.S. citizens. So do you manage that by brute force from your own country alone. Or do you cooperate with others?”

OO: In a recent column you wrote, one question deals with what body is right for unifying these different sectors of society? Something already established, like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), or something new?

BH: “When I spoke with the IMO five years ago, piracy was not an issue of theirs.
    “They’re not free to talk about the role of flag states, because it’s not by treaty and their members, who are state, expect them to talk about the treaties – not what’s defective about the treaties.
    “You’ve got a treaty that’s 28 years old, I believe – 1984 – and most of the states in the world can’t fulfil their obligations under the treaty.”

OO: How much clout does an organisation like the IMO really have in enforcement and regulation, would you say?

BH: “Even more importantly: Is there any organisation? Because, how a country treats, say, you bringing arms into that country. It’s set by the country. There are international treaties that say, ‘This should be the law.’ But most countries haven’t adopted those laws. So, that’s where I bring up the point: Is there really anyone empowered to deal with this? Because it’s being treated as a sovereign issue by 97 different sovereigns.”

OO: Explain how counter-piracy has changed through the centuries, if you would.

BH: “The first major written language in human history was Cuneiform in Sumeria. And there are accounts of piracy recorded in that language. So, as long as man’s been writing, he’s been writing about piracy.
    “When [former U.S. President Thomas] Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy to protect the U.S. ships being taken off Tripoli, something like 85 percent of U.S. exports were carried on U.S.-flagged ships. Crews were U.S. citizens and the ships were owned by U.S. citizens. And about 25 percent of the agricultural export of the United States was exported. So it was the American economy. Now, you have something like the United States having 50-some percent of the naval forces, but only like 12 percent of the flagged vessels. You’ve got 60-to-70 percent of flagged vessels flagged in states like Panama, Liberia, the Marshall Islands, that don’t have a deepwater navy. And yet the treaties are written for the flag states to provide supervision. And a crime committed on that ship is a crime committed in that state and they should have jurisdiction. But they’ve got no way of doing that. They’re supposed to ensure the safety of ships…They don’t have the capacity.
    “This gets back to the situation where local sovereigns control the fate of people in their ports. Which is what the flag state rules were intended to avoid. You go back 1,500 years – merchants travelled in Europe at their own risk. They could forfeit their goods, their ship or their lives to any local sovereign. They formed the Hanseatic League, in which the merchants did self-protection: If you fool with this merchant, we can bring famine to your land…In about the 1600s, the royal sovereigns became stronger and developed agreements where they recognized each other – the whole concept of state sovereignty and territorial sovereignty...And the merchants started to sell under the cover of their flags. And the flags meant something because it was English ships carrying English goods with English crews…And they provided protection. In the 1920s, largely because of Prohibition, U.S. cruise ships began to license in Panama because they wanted to serve liquor to passengers, and the open-registry concept got borne. And people were feeling that piracy had been solved.”

OO: Going to the flags of convenience is almost a situation of their own making – sacrificing security of a strong navy for fiscal advantages.

BH: “Well, but another thing happened. About 1850, the European empire was reaching its heights, piracy wars are becoming more expensive, and so piracy went from being an act of war to being considered a crime. And they established colonial courts all over the world to try pirates in a functioning legal system. When you got rid of the European empires, you still had piracy as a crime incorporated in treaty, but they got rid of the court system to deal with it. So, now we have a crime, but no jurisdiction.
“The first line of defence against piracy is always the coastal state. And, by and large, that still works. The second line of defence is the flag states. The third line of defence is self-defence, and merely because of an unwillingness of the international community to discuss the problems with flag states and the judicial system, we’ve defaulted to, essentially, self-protection.”

OO: Which is where private security firms come in…

BH: “Exactly. And they’ve been used for a lot longer. In fact, if you think about it, it’s really amazing – the influence of piracy. Athens is 8 miles from Piraeus, because the wealthy Athens citizens didn’t want to be near the coast where they could be kidnapped by pirates. Rome is inland for the same reason. Then, when Istanbul fell to the Turks, Turkish piracy became so severe that Portugal and Spain funded the voyages of discovery to find a new way to the East, because they couldn’t go to the Eastern Mediterranean. And then British colonisation in a lot of Malaysia was to take the land where pirates were coming from to protect their trade routes to Asia and India. And the French colonised North Africa to prevent Barbary piracy. So, to an incredible amount, the European empire expansion, and the extent of it, was a function of suppressing piracy.”

OO: You’ve voiced support for the local authority in Somaliland and their efforts to suppress piracy. What is different about Somaliland compared to other regions of Somalia and what is its incentive?

BH: “They want international recognition. Somaliland wants a stable society. And partially because of Western interference, the rest of Somalia hasn’t been able to have that stability.”

OO: There have been many explanations on what has reduced piracy in Somalia in the past year. You mentioned that local rulers have diverted forces and resources from piracy to stabilise their base. But there has also been increased pressure from international navies and the use of private security. To what do you attribute the drop?

BH: “And there’s another one, too: About 25 percent of the merchant fleet has been withdrawn from service because of the downturn in the economy. And the ones that tend to be withdrawn are the less efficient ships that tend to be older and slower, which were easier targets.”
“And another one: A few years ago, it was estimated that there were 1,500 to 2,000 active pirates. There’s, right now, more than a thousand – like 1,200 – in foreign jails, either convicted or awaiting trial for piracy.”

OO: What is the key to piracy suppression, then? Does it come down to regional support for a broad initiative?

BH: “Well, first of all, to a large extent it’s not a regional problem. We have a structural problem with maritime governance. It’s happening in Singapore – oh, that’s a regional problem, let the regional states take care of it. It’s happening in Somalia – oh, that’s a regional problem. It’s happening in Nigeria – that’s a regional problem. Well, there used to be a statement when you’re running companies: If a division’s not doing well, fire the general manager and put in a new general manager; if it’s still not doing well, maybe you put in a third general manager; if the third one’s not doing well, maybe there’s something wrong, structurally, with the division. By the time we have – the South China Sea was a problem in the 80s; in the 90s, the Strait of Malacca; 2000s, Somalia; 2010, Nigeria. It’s not the regions. There is no longer a system to deal with it.”

OO: Is the solution to create international courts to try pirates more efficiently?

BH: “I’m not sure that the best choice wouldn’t be to empower admiralty courts. In other words: Whatever navy picks them up tries them under military court right there locally, right away.”

OO: The lion’s share of the task would still fall to the world superpowers, though, given that they control most of the international navies.

BH: “Maybe. Another alternative is crew states get quite a bit out of the maritime industry – far more than the flag states.”

OO: What incentive do crew states have to take on that task?

BH: “Maybe there’s a universal tonnage tax that’s imposed on commercial shipping to help support the piracy courts. You need to get all these different groups together, throw out all the treaties and say: If we had to create a system now, what do we do?”

OO: What would you say the chances are that this will happen in the next 50-to-100 years?

BH: “Certainty. Whether it happens in the next three or four is another matter.”

OO: There is a lot of resistance to change. What do you think will ultimately cause people to realize change is needed?

BH: “All human systems are originally founded on principle. And over time, they move away from their principles and start to become mythological and begin to put on expensive patches to try and uphold the myths. And when the patches become so expensive and unwieldy, then you begin to look again at your principles. And, eventually, through the force of economics…merchant ships are going to have to bear the cost of security. They’re not going to want to do that. Flag states are going to start having more problems and flags of convenience are going to start having problems. There may be someone who sues a flag-of-convenience state for failure to protect their crews. They are economic and political pressures that make people realise things have to change.”

OO: Do you think it will be governments or the marine industry that ultimately becomes the agent of change?

BH: “The ex-military people provided by the private mercenary companies is far too expensive to last a long time. So there will be some sort of structural shift in the way that security is provided. I don’t know all the answers. But I thought that one of the things that needs to happen is for industry, labour unions, flag states, naval states, to informally get together in a committee and create some sort of institutional plan.”

OO: And if that doesn’t happen?

BH: “Otherwise you’re on your own. It’s coastal state, some state or flag state, and self-defence.”

OO: So that’s the problem – we have these three options, none of which work in unison?

BH: “None of which work in today’s world. Arms smuggling treaties make it virtually impossible for the private ship to arm itself properly, and in the event of using them, in many sophisticated countries, you can only use proportionate force.”

OO: Even when you’re carrying arms in what is, essentially, a legal manner, politics can still become involved. There was the M/V Ocean Atlas detained in Venezuela for arms trafficking even though it was later proven that they were not in violation of the law.

BH: “And ships off Nigeria that had dozens of arms in excess of what they needed. It gets to that point of, you then become subject to forfeiture of goods, liberties or life at the hands of a local sovereign. That’s what the whole maritime regulatory industry was set up to avoid.”

OO: Which takes you back to the issue of falling prey to a local sovereign – the whole reason merchants established that confederation for protection.

BH: “The Hanseatic League…If the flag state is no longer providing protection, why do you need to have a flag on a ship? It’s outdated.”

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