Prof Brandon C. Prins, University of Tennessee

DRN: How did you come to studying maritime piracy?
Dr Prins: The attention given to the Maersk Alabama incident  and the subsequent rescue of the ship and its crew by the USN guided  missile Destroyer USS Bainbridge drew my attention to maritime piracy.  Significant theoretical and empirical attention by scholars was being  given to non-state groups after 9/11, such as terrorists and rebels. But  few social scientists were looking at pirates. It seemed like a perfect  opportunity to collect data and explore the conditions associated with  pirate attacks.

DRN: What are the challenges of researching pirate groups?
Dr Prins: Studying pirate groups remains difficult and  dangerous. In fact, most of the research I do doesn’t directly examine  pirate groups, but rather I examine when and where pirate attacks occur  to see whether obvious hotspots emerge. Then, I try to understand the  regional and local conditions that influence the rate of maritime piracy  in given areas and how this piracy evolves over space and time. Really  interesting research has been done on Somali pirate groups and some on  groups located in the Gulf of Guinea. But a lot of maritime piracy is  strictly opportunistic, mostly petty theft, and doesn’t involve an  organized, hierarchical group structure. There is definitely an  opportunity to do work on pirate groups, perhaps similar to work on  rebel and terrorist groups. Still, while terrorists and rebels need to  negotiate with regime leaders, criminals generally prefer to stay covert  so as to avoid triggering state action.

DRN: How have you found working on a research project with a large multinational team?
Dr Prins: Our international research team has been an absolute  joy to work with. We have two partners in Indonesia, one in the Riau  Islands and another in Jakarta. Both have helped collect data on efforts  by the Indonesian government to combat maritime piracy as well as  identify a number of maritime territorial disputes among countries in  the region that affect collaborative counter-piracy operations. Our  research has been more insightful, detailed, and policy relevant because  of our Indonesian partners. But, there are obstacles. The research  project is funded by the US Office of Naval Research through the Minerva  Initiative. At times, compensating our Indonesian partners has not been  easy.

For further information on Dr Prins research on maritime piracy, check out his publications on the following links: