1st Edition

Counter-Piracy Law in Practice An Ethnography of International Security Governance

By Jessica Larsen Copyright 2023
    136 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    This book is a socio-legal study of counter-piracy. It takes as its case the law enforcement efforts after 2008 to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia.

    Through ethnographic fieldwork, the book invites the reader onto a Danish warship patrolling the western Indian Ocean for piracy incidents and into the courtroom in Seychelles, where more than 150 suspects were prosecuted. The aim is to understand how counter-piracy worked in practice. The book uses assemblage theory to approach law as a social process and places emphasis on studying empirical enforcement practices over analysing legal provisions. This supplements existing scholarship on the legal aspects of counter-piracy. Scholarship has mainly examined applicable law governing counter-piracy. This book steps into the field to examine applied law. Its methodology renders visible areas of legal ambiguity and identifies practices that suggest impunity and question legal certainty. It thus contributes with new policy-relevant knowledge for international security governance. The relevance is one of urgency. Counter-piracy off Somalia has served as a governance paradigm, which is replicated in other maritime domains. Consideration of the implications for policy is therefore needed.

    The book will be of interest to policy-makers, security practitioners and scholars who share a methodological commitment to practice.

    About the author



    1 Introduction

    All things legal

    On existing studies of counter-piracy

    An ethnography of counter-piracy

    The methodological approach

    On related approaches

    Organisation of the book


    2 The law: legal debates on counter-piracy in the western Indian Ocean

    Definitions of piracy: narrow or broad?

    Locating jurisdiction, or the shall/may conundrum

    UN Security Council bolstering legal authority

    Piracy actors also have human rights

    Seychelles’ codification of UNCLOS, and then some

    Concluding remarks


    3 The approach: ‘Following the law’ in practice

    Law as process

    The primacy of practice, counter-piracy’s emergence

    The analytical building blocks

    ‘Following the law’ across key sites

    Ethnographic methods and ethical pointers

    Policies and laws as ethnographic data

    Concluding remarks


    4 The warship: maritime policing in the Indian Ocean

    The political mandate

    The ethnographic disappearance of law

    Deciding upon the sources to intercept

    Sources with a national ‘filter’

    Regulation guiding constabulary tasks

    A gap in military police jurisdiction

    ‘Urgent steps’, or narrowing the gap

    Expanding ‘urgent steps’ in practice

    Concluding remarks


    5 The courtroom: piracy prosecution in Seychelles

    Characteristics of Seychelles’ piracy trials

    Identifying the accused in court . . . . . . or defining the ‘Pirate Action Group’

    Establishing common intention

    Using the ‘wrong’ section in the ‘right’ way

    The curious tendency of successful appeals

    Concluding remarks


    6 The implications: socio-legal conclusions on counter-piracy

    Policy implications of ethnographic findings

    Proving the illegal act of piracy

    Codifying UNCLOS articles in domestic law

    The warship’s use of force

    The constabulary function of navies

    Human rights obligations

    The limitations of law enforcement

    Complementarity of the ‘socio-’ and the ‘legal’



    Jessica Larsen is a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies in Copenhagen, Denmark.