Challenge #3: How does a state or sovereign suppress piracy?

Stopping people from becoming pirates requires land-based solutions, while holding pirates to account for their action requires capturing them, usually in the act.

On the land

Pirates exploit the isolation of the sea from a state or sovereign’s centre of authority. But they need land bases to replenish supplies, sell their booty, and to rest, relax and spend their money. To avoid authorities, they choose land bases with minimal or even sympathetic authority. This means successful piracy suppression and eradication requires investing in consolidating and enforcing authority in these areas. Only when sufficient coercive authority is exerted over them do people stop becoming pirates.


This can be very difficult to do. It requires a mixture of sufficient political will, considerable financial resources, appropriate and authoritative personnel, strategic planning, appropriate legal frameworks, time, and usually, the use of force.

Should a sovereign or state decide to tackle piracy on land, three key problems often emerged.


Firstly, the complicity of local authorities in the piracy undermined the integrity of the authority being enforced. Secondly, even when enforcing authority was successful, the pirates often moved on to another ungoverned space and continued their operations there. Thirdly, the dynamic nature of pirate groups made it difficult to track them down. Fourthly, the time taken to exert authority meant suppressors faced pressure from merchants, insurers, and seafarers who expected a more direct and immediate response These people often held considerable influence in governments.

On the sea

Tackling the pirates on the sea came with three major problems:


1) Sovereigns and states often lacked sufficient and suitable naval resources. Historically, war and natural disasters took a significant toll on ships, leaving a lack of suitable ships available to pursue pirates during peacetime. Those vessels left were often over-tasked, under-manned, under-funded, under-provisioned and in ill-repair.

2) Surviving ships were often allocated to more pressing security needs, such as homeland and trade protection over piracy suppression. Colonial governments in the remote areas where pirates thrived often sought to retain their ships for their own local defence, rather than act as convoy protection against pirates.

3) Even with suitable ships, the ocean is a large place that makes finding pirates at sea difficult. Over the centuries, improvements to maritime technology greatly improved ships, navigation, and the efficiency of maritime trade. But severe environmental conditions, including monsoonal weather, high and low temperatures, and salinity, affect the operation of equipment.

Should a pirate be successfully captured (and most were not), holding him or her to account for their actions created a whole new set of challenges.

Challenge #1  Challenge #2  Challenge #3 Challenge #4