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Preventing Piracy and Terrorism in Shipping Industry

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Can the shipping industry overcome the challenges it faces with Piracy and Terrorism?

Although many think that pirates went out of circulation with sailed ships and swords, piracy is becoming an increasingly serious global problem. These range from small thefts to complex hijacks, and while taking place globally, tend to be concentrated in a few geographically restricted shipping channels. The breadth and complexity of the piracy problem makes it almost impossible to address in simple terms.

The first factor is the enormous scope of the shipping industry. An estimated 90% of world trade moves by sea, in over 50,000ships each supposedly governed by the laws of the nation whose flag it bears (Crawford 2004). There is no one place for information concerning piracy, nor any distinct entity to police the oceans. To further complicate the matter, piracy-type acts are now also committed by terrorists, either for political results or as a way to fund their operations.

This research first undertakes a review of available literature on the piracy issue, including types and motives of piracy attacks, ahistorical and current summary of pirate activity, and a consideration of terrorist attacks on shipping concerns. Two particularly volatile areas of pirate activity are then reviewed, the Malacca Straights in Southeast Asia, and the waters off the coast of Nigeria, Africa. Combining best practise findings from the literature reviewed with these case studies then provides a foundation for recommendations on how the piracy issue can best be addressed, by individual shipping concerns, individual countries, and the international community. Countermeasures will be weighed and analysed on the basis of feasibility.

Of particular focus in this research is addressing some of the underlying factors contributing to the rise in piracy, in addition to defensive and offensive measures. These are typically overlooked in studies of effective countermeasures to the maritime piracy / terrorist problem. It is anticipated that this research will reveal the need to address this complex issue holistically and internationally, with greater unity and coordination than currently exists in the maritime community.


This study considers piracy as a result of other underlying issues, and considers countermeasures from a prevention rather than combative perspective, although all types of piracy countermeasures are addressed. Specifically, it is anticipated piracy will be found to be heavily influenced by economic, political, and ideological factors. Its further anticipated that a truly effective response to the growing piracy problem in international shipping will include measures to combat the causes of increased piracy, in addition to the pirates ’actions.

Literature Review

Piracy Defined

One of the initial difficult factors in a study of piracy is the wide range of definitions. What constitutes piracy, what constitutes robbery, and what constitutes terrorism? National and international organisations disagree on the parameters of piracy, as opposed to thievery or terrorist activity, and all agree the lines between are blurring more and more (Langeweische 2003). The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), an organisation of the International Chamber of Commerce, has some responsibility for piracy and legal considerations on the high seas (that is, areas of the ocean not controlled by a particular country, typically more than twelve miles from the country’s coast)(Hawkes 2001). Therefore, where the attack occurred in relation to the coast is of high importance. This is reinforced by the United Nations ‘Law of the Sea, which has been ratified by almost every nation except the United States (Hawkes 2001).

The IMB’s Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur, however, defines piracy as “any act of boarding an vessel with the intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the intent or capability to use force in the furtherance of that act” ((Liss 2003, 55). While only attacks that take place on the high seas are registered with the PRC, they continue to maintain a broader definition of piracy (Chalk 1998). Forth purpose of this research, attacks against shipping vessels at port, in national waters, and on the high seas will be considered piracy if committed with a primarily economic motive. Acts committed from apolitical or ideological motive will be considered terrorist activities.

Most recently, an organisation called the Comate Maritime International (CMI), composed of a number of shipping and law enforcement organisations such as the IMB, The Baltic and International Maritime Council, and Interpol, drafted a Model National Law on Acts of Piracy and Maritime Violence, which expands the definition of piracy to include national waters and the high seas (Hawkes 2001).

Types of Piracy

Pirate attacks also can be categorised according to the location, scope and violence involved. Non-violent hit-and-run attacks are widespread and often unreported. According to Liss (2003)“the vast majority of pirate attacks today are simple hit-and-run robberies, committed by what can best be described as common sea-robbers” (59). This attack can occur while the ship is in harbour or at anchorage. The IMB would define these attacks as low-level armed robbery. These are usually quick, low sophistication attacks where thieves make off with cash and portable personal valuables. The average theft in this type of attacks between $5,000 and $15,000 US dollars (Chalk 1998).

These pirates are typically groups of men from poor areas who have known each other for quite some time, and steal for economic reasons. Outside of ports, these pirates tend to target smaller vessels (Liss 2003). The men will speak on board a ship, usually at night, and take valuables, electronics, the ship’s equipment, or any other easily transportable and saleable item they can find. These raids often last less than thirty minutes, and rarely have any violence, except in the rare instance when a pirate is confronted by one of the crews (Liss 2003).

Violent hit-and-run attacks typically target yachts and other smaller vessels on the open sea. These are typically a heavily-armed group with some planning and training involved. Attacks in territorial waters or on the high seas have a higher level of sophistication, and are categorised as medium-level armed robbery by the IMB (Chalk 1998). In these attacks the pirates board the ship and again take any valuable or saleable items. However, they are unafraid to confront the ship’s occupants or crew, and have injured or killed in a number of cases(Liss 2003). In neither of these two types of attacks is the pirate gang organised or sophisticated enough to also consider stealing the boat (Liss 2003).

Ship-seizing attacks require a much higher level of planning and sophistication, including participation in some wider crime network in order to be able to move the ship’s cargo and the ship itself quickly. Not surprisingly, these types of attacks are usually carried out by professional pirates funded by syndicates (Liss 2003). In temporary seizures, the pirates board the ship and restrain the crew; on rare occasions they may also be held for ransom. The ship is diverted to safe location and its cargo off-loaded, after which the ship and crew are released (Liss 2003). Pirates in this type of attack typically work from a “mother ship,” and may also take portable personal valuables (Chalk 1998).

In the most violent and sophisticated attacks, permanent seizures, the ship itself is hijacked at sea, considered a major criminal hijack byte IMB (Chalk 1998). The crew may be abandoned at sea, but in many of these instances they are simply killed. These attacks usually occur in busy narrow shipping channels, and often at night (Langeweische 2003). The ship is typically repainted and its name changed. It then becomes what is called a phantom ship, changing its name and flag regularly(Liss 2003). Permanent seizures occur almost exclusively in the FarEast (Liss 2003).

The phantom ship may be used as a pirate ship, but is more often used for a sophisticated type of robbery (Liss 2003).

The ship takes on aloud of cargo for a legitimate business, but both the ship and the cargo disappear. The legitimate business loses both its cargo and the shipping fees it invested, and the thieves sell the cargo on the black market, paint the ship and change its name, and repeat the process(Langeweische 2003). A convincing phantom ship can draw in shippers and reroute their cargo quickly, often making up to pounds 30 million a year (Lewis, M. 2004).

A Historical Perspective

When most people think of piracy, they do so from a historical perspective. Blackbeard, Captain Kidd and their compatriots, swashbuckling, sword-carrying figures aboard tall ships with patches over one eye, supposedly once looted and pillaged the high seas and buried their treasure on deserted islands. In reality, however, piracy has historically been tied to national political and economic concerns.

There is evidence that this continues today (Langeweische2003). The “pirates” in Southeast Asia during the colonisation period, for example, typically undertook slave raiding and robbery activities to strengthen and with the support of their local chiefdoms or sultanates. What the colonising powers considered piracy was seen by locals as state-sponsored means of enriching the local community at foreign powers’ expense (Liss 2003). In the early 1800s, pirates in the Mediterranean were supported by the Barbary States of northern Africa, but primarily for economic gain Loft and Koran 2004). These pirates would typically take over merchant ships and demand ransom for their crews. The United States responded with the Barbary Wars, which eventually successfully addressed the piracy problem with military intervention (Loft and Koran 2004).

In various times of economic downturn, particularly when the economic difficulties were localised in areas near popular shipping channels, piracy has historically increased. Piracy experienced a surge with the opening of the Americas, and later Australia (North 1968). On the Atlantic Ocean, these were typically rogue European ships operating for personal profits. However, local residents of Africa, South America, and Asia have also been historically inclined to piracy at various periods. The important historical conclusion from a study of such activity is that piracy rose substantially in and around areas experiencing economic difficulty and which cargo-laden ships passed through, and decreased with economic upturn (North 1968).

In recent decades oil shipments have been an increased target of pirates, particularly during periods of high crude prices. For example, tankers were frequently attacked in the Strait of Hormuzduring the mid-1980s (Loft and Koran 2004). As shipments were rerouted and insurers began to pull out from ships in the area, global oil prices were effected. Shipping in the Persian Gulf dropped by almost twenty-five present, and was not restored until the United States intervened, sending military vessels to regain order in the region(Loft and Koran 2004).

The decade of the 1990s was also a historical turning point in the piracy saga. Worldwide piracy tripled over the period, escalating from just over one hundred annually in the beginning of the decade to a high of 469 in 2000 (Halloran 2003). Geographically, piracy was high in the early 1990s in the Malacca Straights, but increased policing in the1993 to 1995 period reduced incidences there. The area again fell victim to a high number of attacks in the closing years of the decade(Anon 2005).

Piracy also developed from its random, unorganised thievery practise in the late 1800s and much of the 1900s, to sophisticated and highly trained criminal activity, facilitated by the increased number in crime syndicates and terrorist groups becoming involved in piracy activities (Anon 2005b). Many pirates joined “organized crime syndicates comprising corrupt officials, port workers, hired thugs, and businessmen,” developing into sophisticated networks that could gain intelligence on particular ships, plan attacks, and dispose of the stolen property or ships (Loft and Koran 2004, 68). The problem was compounded by the gross underpayment of maritime security in high piracy (and typically economically depressed) areas throughout the 1990s, who become more susceptible to bribes and in some cases even took part in piracy attacks (Loft and Koran 2004).

Piracy Today

Piracy today is a global disaster. Statistics on piracy do not accurately paint the current picture. As many as half of attacks are estimated to go unreported (Anon 2005b). Ship owners are reluctant to detain their ships to participate in an investigation, as doing so costs them significant loss. Incidents of piracy can also make it more difficult for them to recruit high-quality crew members (Clark 2004). Reporting piracy would also cause an increase in their insurance premiums, often costing more in the long-term than simply absorbing the loss (Armstrong 2004). “Since many shipping companies do not report incidents of piracy, for fear of raising their insurance premiums and prompting protracted, time-consuming investigations, the precise extent of piracy is unknown “ (Loft and Koran 2004, 64).

Various international and shipping organisations make the attempt, however, and can at least document trends in piracy events that are reported. Both attacks and their violence are reported to be on theorise. International Maritime Bureau, in its annual piracy report, recorded 325 piracy attacks and thirty deaths in 2004, a decrease in attacks (from 445) but increase in deaths (from 21) in 2003 (Anon2005b). “The number of seafarers taken hostage last year almost doubled to 359, while 311 ships were boarded and 19 vessels hijacked”(Akbar 2004, 27). Armstrong (2004) similarly lists piracy as growing at twenty present annually. Armed attacks increased by nearly fifty present in 2003, with the death count more than doubled from 2002(Akbar 2004).

644 incidents of violence to crews were reported overall, including six on UK-flagged ships and twenty-one on vessels owned or managed from the UK (Akbar 2004). These attacks tend to be clustered in and near some of the busiest Third World ports, particularly off the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Nigeria(Mihailescu 2004, Halloran 2003). In two incidents receiving high media coverage in the UK, pirates executed Sir Peter Blake, the Greenpeace activist, off the coast of Brazil in 2002. Alan MacLean was similarly killed by pirates off the coast of Somalia during an adventure-related trip (Akbar 2004).
The financial impacts are huge. Loft and Koran (2004) report a loss of ships, loss of cargo, and increased insurance costs the shipping industry in excess of sixteen billion US each year. This trainslates to a weekly cost of pounds 300m per week (Akbar 2004, Reynolds 2003). As much as 10 billion US of this loss is to the insurance industry alone, with the true amount being significantly higher due to underreporting (Crawford 2004).

Pirates today are additionally too broad a group to truly generalise. However, technological advances have allowed pirates to become better equipped and have greater information as to their targets, which contributes to an increased number of attacks on larger ships (Lewis. 2004). In addition, the end of the Cold War has reduced the number of sea patrols in certain areas of the world while simultaneously making a tremendous volume of weapons and munitions available on the black market, often at relatively inexpensive prices (Armstrong 2004). Meanwhile, exponential in global trade has greatly increased the amount of highly valuable and saleable goods moving across the seas. This combination of more to steal, less policing, and greater easy in theft has led to a significant rise in piracy activity (Liss 2003).

Attempts to regulate shipping have led to the development of the flags of convenience problem. The practice began after World War II, but did not become widespread or a problem in the international maritime community until the 1990s (Langewiesche 2004). A number of impoverished countries, such as Malta, Panama, and Liberia, began to sell their flags for a fee, with little concern for the legitimacy of the ship’s owners (Loft and Koran 2004).

This allowed ship owners to literally choose under which country’s laws they wanted to sail their ship, regardless of their home port of call (Liss 2003). Today, according to Langewiesche (2004), “no one pretends that a ship comes from the home port painted on its stern” (50). This has greatly facilitated the operation of phantom ships, previously described.

The massive Tsunami that devastated much of the South Asian coast in December 2004 has had a particular impact on piracy. It is believed many pirate syndicates and individual pirate groups lost ships in the disaster, as did many legitimate ship owners. In addition, changes to the Malacca Straights have reduced shipping in the region and left piracy there almost non-existent (Bangs erg 2005). It will be of note to see if piracy rebounds as issues with passage through the Straights are resolved, or whether piracy increases in some other area or areas.

Terrorism: The New Threat

On top of all the above, groups operating from a political motive, terrorists, have entered the piracy trade. Following September 11,terrorism has become a worldwide concern. The maritime community had already experienced a number of terrorist actions and threats, such as when Islamic militants bombed the side of the Cole, an American warship, in 2000 (Anon 2004). Since 9/11, the Limburg, a French oil tanker, has been similarly bombed, while “Abu Soya, a terrorist outfit from the southern Philippines, claimed responsibility for bombing a ferry in Manila Bay earlier this year” (Anon 2004).

While most countries can provide at least reasonable protection for land targets, “the super-extended energy umbilical cord that extends by sea to connect the West and the Asian economies with the Middle East is more vulnerable than ever” (Loft and Koran 2004, 64). Ninety perceptive the world’s trade is transported via ship, with 4,000 slow and difficult to defend tanker ships moving sixty present of the world oil supply. These ships have little or no protection, and are frequently alone on open water with nowhere to hide (Loft and Koran 2004).

Current International Maritime Organization regulations prevent firearms on vessels, even for self-protection, leaving ships’ crews to face terrorist and pirate threats with spotlights and high-powered firehouses (Mihailescu 2004). Interestingly, Russian and Israeli ships ignore the IMO regulations, allowing their crewmembers to be armed, and subsequently have a lower incident of successfully attacks from either pirates or terrorists (Loft and Koran 2004).

As Armstrong (2004) contends, “the world economy relies on the seamless delivery of trade via the world's seaways” (7). This gives the terrorist threat immediate international implications. The international community has attempted to address terrorist concerns with acts such as the International Ship and Port Security Code, implemented in July 2004, the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, and the Container Safety Initiative. However, the terrorist threat remains “a function of the terrorist's will, the terrorist’s capability, and the target's perceived importance” (Armstrong 2004).

Terrorists are separated from pirates by motive. While pirates attack for purely economic reasons, terrorist groups strike for political or ideological reasons, sometimes with economic considerations an additional cause (Anon 2005). “Unlike the pirates of old, whose sole objective was quick commercial gain, many of today's pirates are maritime terrorists with an ideological bent and a broad political agenda” (Loft and Koran 2004).

There is, of course, a connection. Terrorists sometimes act as pirates, usually to finance their political or ideological activities. “Pirates claiming to be members of the Free Aceh Movement, who take ship's crews hostage for ransom, have started to blur the lines between terror and piracy” (Hand 2004, 5). They show no interest in the ship or its cargo, but simultaneously achieve economic gains while embarrassing the government they oppose (Hand2005).

In addition, as pirates become more sophisticated, they may be through their very success revealing to the terrorists where opportunities for successful destruction exist (Anon 2005). “Terrorism is imitative and adaptive, learning from other groups and wider trends” (Armstrong 2004,7). In addition, “the apparent lack of concrete evidence linking pirates and terrorism has not stopped senior Singapore government officials from publicly making this link on a number of occasions”(Hand 2004, 5).

One possible terrorist target is blocking a major shipping lane. Six major shipping channels geographically lend themselves to such an attack (Armstrong 2004). The Malacca Straights are considered the most vulnerable, as the area suffers from lack of funds for policing by its littoral nations yet carries as much as one-third of the world’s total trade and one-half of the world’s oil supply (Anon 2005). “One ship sunk in a strategic right spot has the potential to block much of the Straight and cripple world trade” (Anon 2004, 37).

Fourteen present of world trade moves through the Suez Canal, with the Panama Canal, thebe-el-Man dab, and the Strait of Gibraltar also carrying significant percentages of world trade. All are narrow, busy channels where well-planned terrorist strike could partially or completely block passage (Armstrong 2004). The Strait of Hormuz, connecting the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, is only two kilometres at its most narrow point, yet accounts for over fifteen million barrels of oil transport daily(Loft and Koran 2004).

One well-placed scuttle could physically block these channels, crippling trade, as could refusal of insurance carriers to cover vessels in the area, if the terrorist situation became too severe(Armstrong 2004). Either would have devastating global economic impact. Oil and raw materials would be blocked, soon crippling manufacturing and transportation industries. Targeting energy infrastructure is increasingly recognised as terrorist intention. “Indecent years, terrorists have targeted pipelines, refineries, pumping stations, and tankers in some of the world's most important energy reservoirs, including Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen” (Loft 2004).

“Given al-Qaeda's understanding of the sensitivity of Western economies to the price of oil, the oil and gas industry represents particularly tempting target, where a single terrorist incident could have a huge ripple effect” (Armstrong 2004). The damage would be heightened by today’s just-in-time logistics systems. Companies reduced inventories and capital structures, made possible by international outsourcing and trade, would cause an almost immediate shortage of some goods (Armstrong 2004). This would be compounded if multiple attacks were to occur on vulnerable shipping conduits simultaneously.

Terrorists could also hijack ships and make them into floating bombs, which in addition to closing a shipping lane could be deployed against ports, oil refineries, or other critical infrastructures (Anon 2004). Last year in Singapore, supposed pirates hijacked a chemical tanker in the Malacca Straights, and then abandoned the ship after only an hour, fuelling speculation that terrorists were practising for a just such an attack (Anon 2004). This could cause severe damage, also with global impact in the case of a major port of oil refinery, in addition to having a potential devastating environmental impact on the targeted area. The threats “posed by the environmental impact of a deliberate tanker spill or a gas or chemical tanker being used as a floating bombard sobering yet very real scenarios" (Crawford 2004, 9).

Case Study: The Malacca Straights

The Malacca Straights will be considered in this case study in inspire-December 26, 2004 condition. The channel was devastated by the earthquake and Tsunamis in the region. Several thousand navigational aids have shifted out of position, and at least two deep areas of the channel have filled in dramatically, with one previously over 1,000metres deep now only thirty metres (Bangs erg 2005). Old wrecks were also shifted and joined by ships downed by the waves, which will all need to be charged, and possibly moved or salvaged. London’s International Maritime Organisation is partnering with the United States to re-chart the area and plan for any needed channel modifications, with complete re-charting and dredging where necessary expected to last at least a year (Bangs erg 2005).

The Malacca Strait is to the south and west of Singapore and Malaysia, north of Indonesia. It is a narrow channel, approximately 900kilometres long; at one point it narrows to less than two kilometres wide. (Anon 2005, Anon 2004). Over twenty-five present of total world trade, half of the global oil transport, and nearly two-thirds of the international supply of liquefied natural gas pass through the Straight(Loft and Koran 2004). Last year the Straight recorded over 62,000passages, including 3,300 crude oil tankers and 3,280 natural gas carriers (Hand 2004). Other freighters carry a variety of deadly substances, such as nuclear waste from Japan headed for European reprocessing facilities. The majority of the raw materials for China’s extensive manufacturing activities and products for its growing economy move through the Straight (Loft and Koran 2004).

According to the IMB, the Strait of Malacca is the most dangerous shipping passage in the world (Hand 2004). The Strait is “almost entirely made up of territorial waters belonging to the three littoral states” (Hand 2004). This has been a historical point of collapse in addressing piracy in the region, as only recently have these three countries been able to coordinate activities to address shipping safety. In addition, while Malaysia and Singapore are better of financially than Indonesia, none of the countries has the full range of resources needed to confront the problem (Anon 2004).

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been unable to promote cooperation and a common strategy to deal with piracy in the area, and Indonesia and Malaysia have strongly rejected offers from the United States to dispatch the US Navy to patrol the area (Halloran 2003, Anon2004, Lewis, L. 2004).

Of the three countries, Indonesia has done the least to fight piracy. However, it is not surprising that in such an economically disadvantaged country piracy is far down on its list of priorities. “The vast majority of shipping it is being asked to protect provides noneconomic benefit for the country” (Hand 2004, 5). In addition, Indonesia has faced significant political turmoil. The simultaneous political and economic crises have left the country unable to address piracy adequately, even if it wanted to (Armstrong 2004).

The Indonesian Navy was dispatched to combat piracy near Singapore at that country’s insistence, but in the long-term “Indonesia lacks both the resources and the political will to maintain security across the entire length of the strait; it is a poor country with deep economic and political problems” (Hand 2004). The Indonesian navy is nearly bankrupt and has, at best estimate, perhaps twenty seaworthy boats appropriate for use on patrol. With these resources they attempt to guard the waters surrounding nearly 17,000 islands (Anon 2004). Singapore and Indonesia attempted to work bilaterally on the problem in the 1990s, but coordination disintegrated (Chalk 1998).

Malaysia has been more aggressive in addressing piracy. Pre-Tsunami, the government even planned to enhance security with a24-hour radar system covering its areas in the Straight (Anon 2005a). The IMB credits Malaysian vigilant policing and anti-piracy activities as directly leading to the drop in piracy at the western end of the Straight. In 2000, seventy-five attacks were reported in that area, but by 2002 the number had dropped to sixteen (Halloran 2003). Unfortunately this number was tempered by increased attacks in the eastern areas of the Straight, such as the area above the impoverished Indonesian Port Clang, where the sea lanes initially widen (Anon 2004).

Following this success, Singapore joined with Malaysia to launch anoint offensive. Seventeen ships were dispatched by the two countries to hunt pirates and terrorists in the Malacca Straight. The countries-ordinated patrols, allowing suspect ships to be pursued across national sea boundaries (Lewis, L. 2004).

This led to a further decrease in pirate activity throughout the Straight. However the Indonesian waters of the Straight continue to report the highest number of pirate attacks globally, although the number has dropped from 121 in 2003 to 93 in 2004 (Anon 2005b). Thesis more than twenty-five present of pirate activity worldwide (Anon2005b).
Indonesians had recently joined with Malaysia and Singapore,pre-Tsunami, to address piracy. The countries have agreed to allow each other’s policing and patrol ships to pursue suspected pirates and terrorists into each other’s waters (Lewis, L. 2004). While each country remains responsible for its own section of the Straight, any reported pirate or terrorist activity will be immediately reported to cooperating the other countries, allowing for multi-national response where needed (Lewis, L. 2004).

Armstrong (2004) points out that increases in piracy typically follow economic crises, and “flourish in a political / security vacuum”(7). “The growth in incidents in the Malacca Strait, for example, follows the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s” (Armstrong 2004,7). Ideologically, the Muslim religion remains prominent in the region. This has encouraged Muslim extremists to establish bases near the Straight, from which they attack ships for political or economic gain (Kokand 2004). The recent natural disasters in the region have only intensified economic and political problems. It is therefore unlikely that the Straight will remain pirate-free once the Tsunami effects on the shipping lanes are dealt with, unless the economic and political instabilities of the region, particularly in Indonesia, are addressed.

Case Study: Nigeria

The high seas and territorial waters off the coast of Nigeria are another hotbed of pirate and terrorist activity. The country is on the western coast of Africa, bordered to the north and west by Benin and Cameroon, and to the south by the Gulf of Guinea (Nigeria 2005). The river Niger flows through Nigeria to its delta in the gulf. The county is Africa’s most populous, but the vast majority of Nigerians live at below-poverty levels, surviving through subsistence farming (Anon2004b). Petroleum and petroleum products account for ninety-five present of the nation’s exports, making departing tankers a prime target for pirates and terrorist groups (Nigeria 2005).

The Nigerian government has been going through massive changes. Constitution was enacted in 1999 following sixteen years of corrupt and poorly managed military rule (Nigeria 2005). Agricultural productivity has plummeted, causing what was once one of Africa’s leading agricultural producers to import food supplies. The economy has been allowed to become over-reliant on petroleum, without the creation of diverse economic interests or investment in infrastructure (Nigeria2005). Nigeria is home to over 250 ethnic people groups, leading to religious and ethnic dissention within the country (Nigeria 2005).

While not having as high an incidence of strikes as the Malacca Straight, attacks in the region are significantly more violent (Clark2004). In the first half of 2004, Nigeria had thirteen attacks, compared with fifty in Indonesia (Anon 2004b). However, the International Maritime Bureau reported half of the thirty deaths recorded worldwide from maritime attacks during the same period took place in Nigerian territorial waters (Anon 2004b). Overall, while pirate and terrorist attacks were down to twenty-eight in 2004 (from thirty-nine in 2003), areas off the Nigerian coast remained by far the most deadly (Anon 2005b, Anon 2004b).

In a typical Nigerian attack, heavily-armed gangs, usually carrying automatic weapons such as AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, hide in “the maze of creeks and rivers intertwined with mangrove swamps that make up the delta where the River Niger empties into the Atlantic Ocean” (Anon 2004b). The gang approaches a target ship using speedboats or barges, force it to halt and shoot at the windows of the bridge until the ship drops anchor. The pirates will then board the ship, take anything of value, and beat the crew. In addition, crewmembers are often kidnapped and held for ransom (Clark2004).

Some security analysts blame the proliferation of weapons since the cold war for increased violence in Nigeria (Anon 2004b). Others trace the problem to economic and political instabilities. “Decades of corruption and mismanagement by successive Nigerian regimes has left the oil-rich Niger Delta one of the most impoverished regions across the country” (Anon 2004b). This has had major negative economic impacts on the country, including massive unemployment, which further the appeal of financial gain through piracy (Anon 2004b). Nigeria has long been prominent in crude oil theft, siphoning off hijacked tankers to sell the oil to other vessels offshore (Anon 2004b). This is a main source of revenue for many groups in the country (Anon 2004b).

This problem is compounded with the frequency of terrorist strikes in the region. “Self-styled rebel leader, Ansari Doubt of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force” is one such terrorist (Anon 2004b). Doubt justifies his terrorist activities against the shipping community as a way to end what he views as the government’s “stranglehold on the 2.5 million barrels of oil produced each day in the region,” and has additionally admitted to stealing crude oil from multinational pipelines to fund his terrorist activities (Anon 2004b). Political insurgents such as Doubt increase the complexity of the Nigerian problem, moving it from economically based piracy to also include political and ideological agendas.

To its government’s credit, the Nigerian navy is active and serious about the piracy / terrorist problem in its waters. For example, last year a naval patrol pursued a group of seventeen pirates into the creeks near Warri, and subsequently killed them in an aggressive gun battle (Clark 2004). Nigerian security officials report that other patrols, primarily using the four ships recently donated by the United States’ Department of Defence to assist Nigeria in its efforts, last year impounded twenty ships and arrested over ninety people trafficking in stolen crude oil (Anon 2004b). Like most African fleets, Nigeria believes it could do more with additional resources, but currently cannot afford to comprehensively address its piracy problem (Clark2004).


Addressing Underlying Causes

While many rush to defensive countermeasures in addressing the piracy /terrorist issue, the above literature review demonstrates underlying economic, political, and ideological issues contribute to piracy and should be addressed. Armstrong (2004) has demonstrated a direct correlation between economic downturn and increase in pirate activity in a given region. Therefore, increasing the economic health of an area infested by pirates will not only enable the areas’ nations to better fund anti-piracy activities, the improved financial condition of the countries and their citizens would also reduce the support for piracy amongst local residents (Armstrong 2004).

For example, established countries like the UK or US, or teams from an international organisation like the UN, could assist Nigeria in investing its petroleum revenues to rebuild the country. Invigorating the agricultural sector and creating basic manufacturing entities would decrease unemployment and instability, making piracy and terrorist support less appealing.

Some fishermen in Southeast Asia have begun acting as pirates, particularly in areas where large commercial fishing crawlers are destroying their livelihood and way of life (Liss 2003). Many residents of the area were left behind by the rapid technological advances of the 1990s, “creating an ever-widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots” (Liss 2003, 58). Many of these people watch as ships carrying the bounty of economic prosperity sail past their homes, but remain in poverty. Since the economic crisis of 1997,unemployment has remained high and capital investment low (Liss 2003).

These economic conditions will be further compounded by the destruction of the Tsunami last year, which destroyed billions of pounds of ships, buildings, and infrastructure in the region, not to mention the loss of life (Bangs erg 2005).
Economic stability additionally decreases the likelihood that the military and costal patrols will accept bribes, or become involved in piracy themselves. Loft and Koran (2004) contend that “in certain regions the security forces themselves are the problem” (69).

The PR reports a “master and third officer of a Malaysian registered cargo vessel were allegedly beaten and held for ransom by the crew of a naval vessel” (Wallis 2004). The naval patrol reportedly fired on the ship, ordering it to stop. The crew of the patrol then took the master and third officer on board their own ship, where they were beaten. One naval officer demanded a HK$39,000 ransom (around pounds 3,000) for their release. The two men were held captive until the captain was able to negotiate the ransom down to around pounds 1500, which he paid(Wallis 2004).

Political stability, particularly as it combines with economic stability, is another factor in decreasing piracy. Politically stable nations are better able to provide the patrolling and policing actions needed to deter piracy. Their citizens are less likely to support or participate in piracy and similar activities (Anon 2004b). For example, the Indonesian island of Bataan sought rapid economic development, attracting workers from across the nation. When economic upturn did not come as quickly as expected, many of these workers ended up in squatter communities on the island. They now co-exist with luxury hotels and golf courses serving primarily foreign tourists (Liss2003). People trapped in such hardship are more easily swayed by the disparity of their lives compared to their foreign guests, and particularly open to the “Robin Hood” pirate, who provides them with financial assistance in return for safety within their community(Kokand 2004).

Ideological motivations, such as drive terrorist groups, must also be considered. While little can be realistically done to placate extremist groups who want all westerners dead, sensitivity to religious and other differences enhances the chance that groups will be able to cooperate and reduce the incidence of violence. In addition, residents of countries near piracy and terrorist centres may be less likely to support, or at least less likely to ignore, such activity if they themselves feel respected and included by the government and others benefiting from shipping trade.

Feasible Countermeasures for Ships and the Shipping Industry

Increased security regarding containers and ports

Ports and docks are certainly not safe from either pirate or terrorist threat. In the case of terrorists, goods may be flowing these ports to facilitate the next attack. The shipping industry, in an attempt to become financially lean and therefore more profitable, has allowed shipping system to develop that is increasingly difficult to secure(Hawkes 2003). Aside from vehicles and raw materials, over ninety-present of ocean-bound cargo is now shipped in containers(Nankivell 2004).

These are easily loaded via crane on board, and typically mount directly onto a tractor-trailer truck or freight car once on land. They greatly decrease the cost of shifting goods, and have led to increasingly efficient and cost-effective transport(Langewiesche 2003). Instead of requiring cargo go straight from the shipping source to its destination without major shifting operations, “container shipments can be stacked as individual units, shipped between central hubs, then dismantled and parcelled out to smaller spoke ports” (Nankivell 2004, 31).

The problem is the lack of security that has been allowed to become commonplace in container transport, which must also be addressed. While cargo not packed in containers is easily inspected as it is off-loaded at port, most containers are not opened from their point of shipment to delivery, making them ideal for smuggling or planting explosives (Langewiesche 2003). Such a centralized system is also more vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain (Nankivell 2004, 31).

Inspections or high-tech scanning are the only two reasonable means of evaluating containers when they arrive at port. Both are highly time-intensive and economically infeasible; inspecting or scanning every container would sharply increase the cost of transport worldwide, in addition to delaying goods globally, additionally increasing costs. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security created a voluntary initiative, the C-TPAT, this joint venture between government and business aims to build cooperative relationships, strengthen overall supply chain, and make border security more effective (Mihailescu2004).

Over 7,000 companies have applied for C-TPAT, most because doing so allows them a reduced number of inspections and quickens the cargo off-loading process (Mihailescu 2004). The Container Security Initiative (CSI), another legislation addressing containers, allows customs officials to monitor cargo shipping from foreign ports before they head to the United States (Nankivell 2004). Measures of these types are simply not economically viable for all but the world’s wealthiest nations. It will be a long time before Indonesia and Nigeria could feasibly have this type of security.

The security plan

Individual ship owners can greatly reduce the likelihood of successful pirate or terrorist attack through the development of a security plan. As Loft and Koran (2004) note, ““Ultimately, only a ship can guarantee its own security; maritime security forces cannot be present everywhere at all times” (70). The security plan informs each member of the crew what he or she should do in case of pirate or terrorist attack. It may also call for the adoption or adaptation of physical changes in the ship or its equipment. If so, these should be carried out before the ship is returned to service.

Such security plans are usually created by an external security professional. “The security manager or consultant should conduct a shipboard security survey, write a detailed report for each vessel, “and prepare an individualised security plan for the ship (Hawkes 2003,82). “A ship-by-ship approach is critical because few ships are built the same; thus, the security plan will vary from ship to ship” (Hawkes2003, 82). The shipping route and type of cargo affect the security plan, as there is substantially less chance of pirate attack on a ship transporting lumber from Canada to Spain as there is for a tanker carrying crude through the Gulf of Guinea. The plan will take into account the different types of pirates typically operating in the areas in which she will sail; modifications to the ship and equipment may be recommended. Security readiness inspections are a way to ensure the plan doesn’t just become a worthless piece of paper, and increase the likelihood that the plan will be updated with changes to cargo or route(Loft and Koran 2004).

Firms cite two reasons for not implementing security plans. First, “there are no internationally recognised or recommended security procedures for cargo vessels, and experts rarely agree on anti-piracy procedures” (Hawkes 2003, 82).

Since experts do agree that security plans in general reduce the chance of successful pirate attack, this is seen by most as simply an excuse. In addition, many companies believe the cost of such security programs would have negative economic impacts on profit. While they have been shown to be effective, a security programme increases both the training requirements and outfitting spend for each vessel. Although the possible savings in loss of property in goods has been found to be greatly diminished by such plans, crews are to some extent considered disposable and substantial property loss is covered by insurance (Hawkes 2003, Anon 2004).

For such plans to be implemented widely in the shipping industry, the insurance carriers or some other group capable of making plans economically wise will have to force them on ship owners. While this is a feasible scenario, it remains unlikely.

Security equipment

With all the advances in technology, there are many types of equipment that can be used to deter a pirate attack. Minimum recommendations by organisations such as the Singapore National Ship-owners Association(SNSA), the IMB, and the PRC, include using radar to specifically and constantly sweep for pirates, motion-sensing lighting, well-placed alarms that both sound and send signals to the bridge, and the installation of properly concealed video cameras, so the crew can see what is happening in other parts of the ship from a central location, and to record any attack or robbery for future law enforcement use(Chalk 1998, Akbar 2004).

Additional “minimums” in on board security include locked safes or containers for personal valuables, and readily available water hoses, which have been used successfully in a number of incidences to repel pirates attempting to board a ship (Chalk 1998). In addition, IMO “has ruled that all vessels over 300 tonnes must install a tracking system by the end of the year” (Anon 2004). More elaborate equipment may include a variety of technological products. For example, “since 2003, ship owners have been able to install high-voltage electric fencing to discourage intruders (although ships carrying highly volatile cargo--including oil--cannot use such fencing)” (Loft and Koran 2004, 68).

In terms of feasibility, Akbar (2004) again notes that ship owners are “reluctant to spend money on tightening security,” and many ships “lack decent security equipment such as CCTV and alarms." (Akbar 2004, 27). “The narrow profit margins of shipping are used as an excuse to avoid correcting these problems and little investment is made in equipment or training” (Armstrong 2004, 7).

As with a safety plan, unless some ship-owners are propelled by international regulation, regulations by ports they frequent, or increased insurance premiums, they are unlikely to invest in even the minimum security equipment, much less the many additional and effective products currently on the market with which ship could be outfitted (Chalk 1998). The IMO requirement for tracking systems, as described above, is an example of effective security equipment requirements mandated by an international organisation.

Of note, while the security plan and equipment will help in cases of piracy, they will be less effective in true terrorist attacks (Loft 2004). There is little once can do to anticipate or avoid being rammed ramming by a suicide bomber on a speedboat, for example.

Arming the crew

Some have even suggested allowing crews to carry weapons, although the current IMO regulations forbid firearms on ships, even for self-protection (Mihailescu 2004). The benefits to an armed crew incise of violent pirate or terrorist attack are obvious, if the boarders are shooting at the crew, the crew could shoot back. Both Russian and Israeli ships provide firearms for their crews, and are less likely to suffer external piracy (Loft and Koran 2004). There are several downsides to such a scenario, however, that make it an unfeasible consideration in the maritime community.

Terrorists pretending to be crew members would already be legitimately armed, making it more easy for them to take an entire ship from the inside (Kokand 2004). Arming the crew puts weapons in the hands of men from impoverished backgrounds, many of whom do not really want to be at sea but are forced to by economic necessity (Langewiesche 2003, Liss2003). They are stuck together on a boat, sometimes for many months ate time, in small quarters (Langewiesche 2003).

This easily sets the scene for conflict, and conflict rising to a physical alteration. In the current scheme of things this results in a fistfight; in an armed scenario people are shot, and possibly killed and thrown overboard, often in international waters where law enforcement is scanty and ineffectual (Langewiesche 2003). Providing weapons for the crew also increases the chance that a pirate attack will turn violent. As most attacks are simple robberies and pirates have no desire to physically harm the crew, or even be seen by the crew at all, the addition of weapons for the crew dramatically increases the likelihood a shooting match will erupt (Hawkes 2004). These considerations render such suggestion unfeasible in today’s shipping community.

Screening the crew

Screening the crew, however, is a more viable option. Thelon-standing way to crew ships is to simply round up crews from the ship’s port of call, usually men from developing-world countries. Some will be able to provide specific proof of their shipping experiences, others will ask to be believed based on their word (Langewiesche2003). This method is financially beneficial, particularly in the short term, but poses safety risks in addition to allowing insiders tube planted on ships who will later help in a pirate or terrorist attack(Loft and Koran 2004). The shipping company verifies the captain and ships’ officers, but not the common crew.

An important trend in the shipping industry has been the general reduction in crew with advances in technology. “Crew numbers have halved in the past twenty-five years due to technological advancements and super tankers carrying up to 500,000 tons of oil are regularly manned by a maximum crew of twenty-two people” (Akbar 2004, 27). As the crew are fewer in number, the need for them to be reliable, trustworthy, and trained is more important. The individual ship owners and captains should therefore exercise greater care in crew selection, a task which they can certainly carry out.

To be most efficient and feasible, this measure would require an international organisation such as the IMO to register and screen potential crewmembers. Technically it would be easy to provide such information over the Internet, providing a database of trained seamen, for example, that could be accessed at any port of call. The more difficult tasks would be to ensure data entered in was valid and protect the system against hackers or inside personnel who would adjust the data for a fee.

While this does bring into consideration privacy concerns, it would establish a pool of reliable workers from which shippers could draw. This would certainly not prevent a short-crewed ship from picking up a non-registered worker at their next port of call, nor completely prevent pirates or terrorists from infiltrating legitimate ship. However, men suspected of piracy or terrorist activities, such as those picked up on the seizure of a phantom ship, could be noted.

Reporting pirate and terrorist attacks

Finally, ship crews and owners could report pirate and terrorist attacks accurately to law enforcement officials. Lack of reporting prevents even the possibility that perpetrators of such activity will be stopped. Namaste’s general secretary, Brian Orrell said: "I believe that the failure to reverse the marked increase in attacks and associated levels of violence is scandalous and it is a situation that would not be tolerated in other industries." (Reynolds 2003).

Armstrong (2004) notes that it is “the volatility of insurance premiums that has created a culture of under- or non-reporting of incidents”(Armstrong 2004, 7). This, therefore, is where the issue must be addressed. However, insurance companies must also be allowed to make profit, and cannot be expected to provide services to a shipping company whose ships are regularly struck as compared to one with no pirate or terrorist activity.

The insurance company must be allowed to factor in the security preparations of the ship, its cargo, its course, and similar information in calculating their fee. Additionally, until there is some way to speed the investigation process whereby ships are not detained for precious and costly days while law enforcement works, piracy and terrorist activity will remain underreported, and many pirates continue to operate at will.

Feasible Countermeasures for Countries

Increased use of technology

Individual countries could increase their coast guard spend to better outfit patrols and anti-piracy law enforcement. With the incredible amount of technology available, a number of countries could much more effectively prepare their anti-piracy teams. Singapore, for example, has invested in more efficient monitoring equipment in addition to increasing costal patrols (Chalk 1998).

The US government has begun maintaining a watch list of several hundred ships suspected as phantoms, those ships that show frequent name changes or appear freshly painted, using technology from the intelligence community to try to identify pirates and terrorists (Langewiesche 2003).

The obvious drawback to technology is cost, both in the investment in the technology itself and on-going training expenses. Many nations to not have funds to properly train maritime police or improve inadequate boats and equipment (Halloran 2003). This makes sweeping technological changes unlikely for all but the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations.

Increased patrols and coordination

Most countries could increase coastal patrols and coordinate more effectively with their neighbours, however, at a reasonable cost. Such actions in the Malacca Straight and elsewhere have been shown to be quite effective in reducing the number of successful attacks. Countries with sufficient navy capability could additionally extend their anti-piracy efforts in international waters. The United States, the UK and Australia are three of the few countries worldwide with substantial enough naval capability to address piracy. (Chalk 1998).

The United States did just this in 2002, when President Bush approved legislation “expanding the US Navy’s authority to intercept merchant ships on the high seas” (Langewiesche 2003, 64). NATO forces heavily patrol certain areas, intercepting nearly 16,000 ships in the past four years and thoroughly searching more than 200 of them (Langewiesche2003).

As the countries with the most naval capability are generally those that participate in and profit from global trade the most, it makes sense that they should bear a greater amount of the policing duties. However, it is imperative that such nations respect the sovereignty of smaller nations.


An example of this sovereignty issue occurred in the Malacca Straights. Following September 11, the US considered how its navy “might take a more active role in patrolling the troubled waters” such as those in the Straight (Lewis, L. 2004, 15). Offers by the US Navy to patrol the area, however, were quickly and firmly turned down by Malaysia and Indonesia (Armstrong 2004). Hand (2004) sums up such situation well: “Here lies the real crux of the problem: the littoral nations do not want forces from other countries in their waters, but at the same time lack the funding and resources to do it themselves” (Hand2004, 5).

In the example above, while Malaysia and Indonesia rejected American patrols in the Strait or US ships and troops, they indicate they would be more than willing to accept American assistance in the form of advice, additional equipment or training. (Anon 2004). Lewis, L. 2004).

”The obvious solution is a system whereby interested parties fund the security in the strait, but the littoral states provide the forces themselves or possibly a UN mandated force through the International Maritime Organization” (Hand 2004, 5). Others agree. "The people who benefit from the strait should contribute," says Capt. Jaffa Lamar, who is the president of Malaysia's professional maritime organisation,Institut Kelantan Malaysia, stated that "the people who benefit from the strait should contribute” to its defines (Hand 2004, 5).

This is a feasible way to increase patrols, in addition to increasing jobs and boosting the economy in nations such as Indonesia and Nigeria. The United States and other developed nations are capable of providing funding for equipment and training to protect their own shipping interests around the globe, and have historically been willing to do so (Anon 2004).

However, to work such assistance would need to carefully respect the sovereignty of other countries involved. “The littoral states should be invited to play a leading role in any international approach that might be agreed, involving other states as might be appropriate” (Hand2004, 5).

Naval escorts

On one hand countries want their ships to sail under their flag, on the other they are often unwilling to provide increased security for the ships that do so. Terrorists are more likely to target a ship flying flag they consider oppositional to their political aims or personal beliefs, such as the UK or US. It is not surprising, therefore, that “the UK government is facing growing pressure to provide Royal Navy patrols to protect merchant vessels against international piracy on the high seas” (Crawford 2004, 9).

Since the British government is encouraging ships “to sail under the Red Ensign in an attempt to rebuild the UK's merchant fleet,” it should be willing to meet such ships’ increased need for protection (Crawford2004, 8). Ships from other countries have also begun requesting naval escorts (Chalk 1998).

Obviously, with hundreds of thousands of ships sailing on the oceans, naval escorts could not be provided for everyone. However, it is feasible for limited escorts, particularly for ships with very expensive or dangerous cargo. For example, two UK ships left for Japan“carrying enough plutonium to manufacture 60 nuclear bombs” (Reynolds2003, 10). Given the nature of their cargo and likelihood of attack, each ship was provided three canons, a high-speed boat, and a naval escort. Armed British officers were additionally assigned to both ships (Reynolds 2003).

Escorts on a lesser scale may be warranted for oil or similar cargo, such as is common in the Gulf of Guinea, but it would be difficult to justify the expense of a navy ship to escort aloud of used clothing travelling in the same area.

Alternatives shipping routes or methods

Many countries are now considering projects that allow ships to bypass dangerous chokepoints and waterways (Loft and Koran 2004). These both address the piracy problem and provide a possible income source for the country involved. For example, in response to the increased attacks in the Malacca Straight, before December 26 Thailand proposed a land bridge be constructed across its Kara isthmus, connecting the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea with oil and cargo terminals connected by pipelines, railways, and roads (Anon 2004, Loft and Koran 2004).

“In addition to the benefits in terms of security, the scheme could cut between 40 and 60 cents per barrel off the cost of shipping oil to East Asia” (Anon 2004). It would cut over 600 miles off the typical shipping route and allow ships to avoid the Malacca Straight (Loft and Koran 2004).

Obviously, this is a project of tremendous expense. If it could be proved to be economically feasible, there is good chance that it could be successfully implemented when Thailand has recovered more from the Tsunami devastation. Such a project, however, opens the possibility for piracy acts against it and the cargo it is transporting. Supporters argue that land is significantly easier to defend (Anon2004). It would become a major site of potential terrorist attack, drawback in its feasibility.

Feasible Countermeasures for the International Community

Increased and more effective regulation

One thing the international community could do to address piracy and terrorism is to increase regulation, provided the regulation is effective and not just a bunch of red tape. For example, IMO’s International Security Code was created to tighten access to both ships in port and ships at sea (Crawford 2004). Amongst other things, it required certificates for individual ships, which allow the vessels to enter ISPS Code-compliant port facilities, such as those in Canada and the United States (Mihailescu 2004). “By international agreement, sofas osofas4, ships above 500 tons must be equipped with alarm systems that silently transmit security alerts containing tracking information in case of emergency” (Loft and Koran 2004, 66).

In addition, ships are now required to emboss their IMO number prominently on their hulls(Loft and Koran 2004).
Some regulations are more feasible than others. There are two drawbacks to the ISPS plan, the first being non-compliance. In the first six months of 2004, however, “only fifty-three present of vessels worldwide obtained their International Ship Security Certificates” (Mihailescu 2004).

In addition, ships not sailing to such ports with ISPS requirements have no reason to obtain the certificates. For example, a ship sailing through the Malacca Straight from Saudi Arabia to China does not require certification (Mihailescu 2004). Over time, however, the certificates will allow greater access, and profit, for ship owners and the percentage of those registering will increase.


In conclusion, piracy and terrorist threat against the maritime community will continue to be a global problem unless everyone involved does what they can to both address the underlying causes of such robbery and violence, and enact effective countermeasures to prevent its success. Individual ship owners, the shipping industry, individual nations, and the international community all have a role to play. When all holistically seek to truly confront this problem progress will be truly made.


Akbar, A. 2004. Piracy poses threat to world trade as maritime attacks hit record levels. The Independent (London), First Edition, Foreign News Section, Monday, March 8, 2004, p. 27.
Anon 2004. Going for the jugular , Economist, 00130613, 6/12/2004, Vol. 371, Issue 8379, pp. 37-38.
Anon 2004a. Abduction of Filipino seamen is act of piracy not terrorism. International Custom Wire, Oct 08, 2004.
Anon 2004b. Report Says Nigerian Waters the Most Deadly in World. Africa News, All Africa, Inc., Tuesday, July 27, 2004.
Anon 2005. Pirates' success in Malacca Strait could inspire terrorists, U.S. official warns. Finance Custom

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