The US State Department announced yesterday that it will send a senior official, Tom Kelly, to the Bahamas this coming week to formally¬†strengthen bi-lateral cooperation on global counter-piracy¬†efforts. This might seem a bit odd, seeing as Blackbeard and the other so-called Pirates of the Caribbean haven‚Äôt commandeered a ship for a couple of centuries.
However, the Bahamas is one of the top countries in the world for registering and flagging ships, along with such seafaring great powers as Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands. At least 50 million gross tonnes (the standard measurement) of ships around the world are flying the Bahamas flag, including the pirate-infested waters off Africa, making it the country with the world‚Äôs¬†fifth-largest maritime presence¬†(pdf, p. 12, and chart below). The Bahamas is especially popular because foreigners can hold direct title to a Bahamian vessel, and the Bahamas¬†does not impose any tax¬†on income, capital gains or similar financial revenues.
And with the¬†successful recent crackdown¬†on pirates, especially off the coast of Somalia, the United States‚Äîas this year‚Äôs chair of the multinational¬†Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia‚Äîis now seeking some longer-term solutions to the problem. At the top of the list: getting the big flag registry countries¬†to become full partners in the global counter-piracy effort. ‚ÄúWe are in a maintenance mode right now, past the crisis stage, and we certainly want flag states to exercise their sovereign responsibilities,‚Äô‚Äô a State Department official speaking anonymously told Quartz.
The need for the Bahamas to do more became apparent in January 2012 when theMV Sunshine¬†was raided by pirates in the Arabian Sea, and US commandos rescued the ship and captured 15 Somalis. The ship was Bahamian-flagged, but the Nassau government wasn‚Äôt prepared to arrest, prosecute and try the pirates. The men wereultimately convicted in the Seychelles, and Washington and Nassau have been working together ever since on a memorandum of understanding that will be signed next week.¬†What‚Äôs in the document isn‚Äôt yet public, but it apparently includes non-binding (and very general) provisions for better consultation‚Äîand technical cooperation‚Äîso that the Bahamas is prepared to deal with the next boatful of pirates caught hijacking a Bahamian-owned or flagged ship.
The State Department official said Washington will now try to forge similar agreements with other countries, especially those that register and flag a lot of ships. That‚Äôs because such prosecutions can be ¬†extraordinarily time-consuming and expensive, and the Justice Department doesn‚Äôt want to prosecute all of them itself, as it has in recent years. ‚ÄúThe Bahamas is not alone in this,‚Äù ¬†the official said. ‚ÄúThe laws of many countries are antiquated. For a long time, piracy had been a forgotten problem.‚Äù