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:
- (2022) “Maritime Piracy and Foreign Policy.” Oxford University Handbook of Foreign Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. With Aaron Gold, Anup Phayal, and Ursula Daxecker.
- Pirate Lands: Governance and Maritime Piracy (with Ursula Daxecker). 2021. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- (2021) “Fights Over Maritime Boundaries are Creating Safe Zones for Pirates.” The MonkeyCage, Washington Post, August 5, 2021. With Anup Phayal and Aaron Gold.
- (2021). “How History Predicts COVID-19’s Impact on Maritime Piracy, and What America Can do to Help.” Homeland Security Today, February 13, 2021. With Anup Phayal and Aaron Gold. Republished in Dryad Global, February 18, 2021.
- (2020) “Capacity Building must be a Focus as Sea-piracy Expands.” Maritime Executive, September 19, 2020.
- (2020) “Global Sea Piracy Ticks Upward and the Coronavirus May Make it Worse.” The Conversation, May 5, 2020.
- (2019) “Fueling Rebellion: Maritime Piracy and the Duration of Civil War.” With Anup Phayal and Ursula Daxecker. Forthcoming in International Area Studies Review. https://doi.org/10.1177/2233865919833975
- (2017) “Financing Rebellion: Piracy as a Rebel Group Funding Strategy.” With Ursula Daxecker. Special issue of Journal of Peace Research on forecasting. 54(2): 215-230. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343316683436
- (2017) Enforcing Order: Territorial Reach and Maritime Piracy.” With Ursula Daxecker. Conflict Management and Peace Science 34(4): 359-379. https://doi.org/10.1177/0738894215594756