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To be informed about the situation on the Europe's rivers, I enrolled on all different kind of news aggregators. I thought this would be a good way to keep you up to date about the waterlevels on the Danube or other interesting events for river cruises in Eastern Europe. So I was quite puzzled when among the first news in my mailbox around mid Janurary 2012 were articles about pirates on the Danube river. When I hear the term 'pirates', I like to think of old Erol Flynn movies or Lucas Arts computer games (and thats how I chose the pictures for this article). Don't get me wrong, I know about EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta in Somalia at the Horn of Africa. And I know that pirates are still a problem in the Street of Malacca in Asia. But it seems, as during the last few years, this profession came back to Europe. Especially in Eastern Europe locals in small motorboats try to raid cargo vessels (and sometimes succed). Therefore let me try to give you a detailled account: First we cover the juridical definition and terms, followed by a list of attacks and an analysis of attack patterns. Last but not least the article deals with the impact of these acts of piracy on river cruises. And here I spoil the whole article: There are absolutely 100% none.
Actually these transgressions are not acts of piracy if we define piracy according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) from 1982. In article 101 the UNCLOS says:
Piracy consists of any of the following acts:
(a) any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft, and directed:
(i) on the high seas, against another ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such ship or aircraft;
(ii) against a ship, aircraft, persons or property in a place outside the jurisdiction of any State;
Rivers are always within the jurisdiction of a state. Even if a river defines a border between two states, one side of the valley line of the river bed falls under the jurisdiction of State A and the other side under the jurisdiction of State B. That would be the case along the Rhine between Germany and France, or the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria. So according to the UN these actions could only be categorized as "river robbery". Besides that, it also does not distinct between Territorial Waters, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and High Seas. So in that way, the UNCLOS falls back behind the Piracy Act from 1698: "all piracies, felonies, and robberies committed in or upon the sea, or in any haven, river, creek, or place, where the admiral or admirals have power, authority, or jurisdiction, may be examined, inquired of, tried, heard and determined, and adjudged". As you can see, Wilhelm III did not really care, where his ships were attacked, it mainly concerned him that people dared to attack them. But there is a second modern, maybe more useful definition to define actions committed by rackets within countries without a properly working executive. The International Commerce Chamber's International Maritime Bureau (ICC IMB) defines “an act of boarding (or attempted boarding) with the intent to commit theft or any other crime and with the intent or capability to use force in furtherance of that act.” This definition can be used for attempts to board cargo ships on rivers, and it avoids the problems that would arise in the following scenario: Pirates attempt to board a supertanker while it is crossing the 3 miles zone. According to UNCLOS, if the pirates attach their hooks outside the 3 miles line to the ship its piracy, otherwise its theft / robbery. If you are really interested in these differences, read more here. Though the ICC IMB definition is the most advanced, their Piracy Reporting Center unfortunately only covers the high seas. For simplicity, I will now call these persons pirates, no matter if they were actually river robbers (or river thieves if they did the illegal unloading of cargo at night). It just sounds cooler.
There are 3 different zones marked on the map:
* If not mentioned otherwise, 'Romania' is a synonym for the Danube stretch between Galati and Borchea / Braila / Bala, close to the Danube Delta (Km 250 - 350). This is labeled in red on the map.
* As you can see, there is a second red area with a lower opacity stretching from Cernavoda to Constanta along the Black Sea Canal. There were no pirate attacks reported, but a spokesman of the german company Väth Würzburg denounced this area as 'extremely unsafe'. Oddly enough, another spokesman of the same company told a german newspaper that their 'ships sail on the Danube for many years, and [they] have never had a problem with the alleged pirates' (Source). Due to these inconsistent statements and as no other source reported incidents on the Black Sea Canal, I marked it in a brighter color.
* The term Serbia refers mainly to the stretch between Belgrade and Smederevo.
* Pirate flags mark cities that were mentioned in articles. Every city that is cruise-able is marked with its regular symbol as you know it from the Interactive Map.
|Year||Ship Name||Registry||Area of Attack||Goods stolen|
|2006||Petr Beron||Bulgaria||Romania||Spotlights, money, valuables|
|2010||Star Ferry||Ukraine||Romania||2 tons of metal, personal belongings|
|2011||Captain Zhydkov and Barge UDP-1615||Ukraine||Romania||3 tons of corn|
|2011||Chelyabinsk and UDP-1615||Ukraine||Romania||3 tons of maize|
|2011||Harmony||Croatia||Serbia||Flaps for 100.000 $|
|2011||St Apostol Andrey||Bulgaria||Romania||1 ton of barley|
|2011||Sloboda||Croatia||Serbia||Cables and navigation devices|
|2012 / 01 / 04||Perm and UDP-1724||Ukraine||Romania||Rope coils, cables, personal belongings|
|2012 / 01 / 07||Captain Babkin and UDP-SL-011||Ukraine||Romania||Alcohol, cigarettes, fuel, money|
'The sailors sell fuel from the ship’s supplies, as well as anything valuable from the ship, and after returning to their country, they talk about attacks and robberies, in order to hide the missing goods and receive insurance coverage. This ‘business’ has been flourishing ever since the time of the sanctions, and the cooperation is so advanced that most of the captains call their ‘business partners’ on the phone when the ship comes alongside a quay,' a source from the river police told the newspaper.The 'time of sanctions' refers to the 90ies post civil war situation and the Serbia Sanctions Case. Now lets recall the situation: Crews on cargo ships are down to 3 members who work 12 hour shifts - in other words: These crews are most likely underpaid but definitely overworked. They sail through an area where there is no police boat within the next 60 miles / 100km and where it seems as romanian ships don't have to be registered at all. I can imagine that this situation provides a certain motivation to come to an agreement with a few locals in order to share the booty.