Piracy Under International Law

Updated 24 May 2012


Acts of piracy threaten maritime security by endangering, in particular, the welfare of seafarers and the security of navigation and commerce. These criminal acts may result in the loss of life, physical harm or hostage-taking of seafarers, significant disruptions to commerce and navigation, financial losses to shipowners, increased insurance premiums and security costs, increased costs to consumers and producers, and damage to the marine environment. Pirate attacks can have widespread ramifications, including preventing humanitarian assistance and increasing the costs of future shipments to the affected areas.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides the framework for the repression of piracy under international law, in particular in its articles 100 to 107 and 110. The Security Council has repeatedly reaffirmed “that international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 (‘The Convention’), sets out the legal framework applicable to combating piracy and armed robbery at sea, as well as other ocean activities” (Security Council resolution 1897 (2009), adopted on 30 November 2009). Article 100 of UNCLOS provides that “[a]ll States shall cooperate to the fullest possible extent in the repression of piracy on the high seas or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State.” The General Assembly has also repeatedly encouraged States to cooperate to address piracy and armed robbery at sea in its resolutions on oceans and the law of the sea. For example, in its resolution 64/71 of 4 December 2009, the General Assembly recognized “the crucial role of international cooperation at the global, regional, subregional and bilateral levels in combating, in accordance with international law, threats to maritime security, including piracy”.

The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, as the secretariat of UNCLOS, has a mandate to provide information and advice on the uniform and consistent application of the provisions of UNCLOS, including those relevant to the repression of piracy. It also has a mandate to provide information on relevant developments in oceans and the law of the sea to the General Assembly, as well as to the Meeting of States Parties to UNCLOS, in the annual reports of the Secretary-General on oceans and the law of the sea. These reports provide updated information on developments in respect of piracy and other crimes at sea.

Legal Framework for the Repression of Piracy Under UNCLOS

United Nations Documents on Piracy

National Legislation on Piracy

Links to Other Organisations and Websites

IMO Circular letter N. 3180 concerning information and guidance on elements of international law relating to piracy, prepared by DOALOS, IMO and UNODC

New: Letter dated 23 March 2012 from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council (compilation of information received from Member States on measures they have taken to criminalize piracy under their domestic law and to support the prosecution of individuals suspected of piracy off the coast of Somalia and imprisonment of convicted pirates) (S/2012/177)


Prepared by the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations.

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