Maritime law is defined as the body of law relating to maritime commerce and navigation, and to maritime matters in general. Each country generally controls the waters surrounding it, and their laws apply, but there are vast areas on the high seas that aren't owned or governed by any country. Because of this, the international community has often attempted to work together to form laws that would cover the world's oceans. In 1958, the United Nations Conventions on the High Seas was held, and in 1982 the Convention on the Law of the Sea was convened. These two groups defined piracy as “an attack mounted for private ends on a ship on the high seas that involves violence, illegal detentions of persons or property, or the theft or destruction of goods.” The more recent United Nations Law of the Seas defines piracy as “any illegal acts of violence or detention, or any act of depredation, committed by individuals for private ends against a private ship or aircraft.” They also specify that two vessels must be involved in the incident, otherwise the act is one of hijacking rather than piracy.
Why was there a need for a change in the definition of piracy?
There are problems with the first definition, including the fact that it states that the attack must occur “on the high seas.” Many pirate attacks are much closer to shore, some even occurring on docked boats and rivers. Also, this definition said that the attack had to occur for private gain, and this is difficult to prove given that pirate's identities are typically unknown and the individuals can't be shown to be acting for their own private gain.
The majority of modern pirates operate out of a specific homeland, and piracy is most common near areas where authorities tend to turn a blind eye to their acts. Most countries have differing levels of laws and law enforcement, and local governments may condone or even participate in acts of piracy. For example, in 1995 the Philippine Coast Guard boarded the merchant ship
Outside of local waters, international maritime laws prevail in any instance of piracy. If a ship on the high seas is suspected of being a pirate ship, it can legally be boarded and seized by any official government vessel. The pirates can then be arrested, and subjected to the laws and penalties of any country that apprehends them.