While at IIAS, I will be working on my current book project, Protectors of the Sea: Piracy and Economies of Capture in the Indian Ocean. Based on my doctoral research, Protectors of the Sea focuses on the encounter between small skiffs and large ships in the watery expanses of the Indian Ocean. Specifically, I ask what made it possible for half a dozen young men to take over ships as large as the MV Sirius Star—a Liberian flagged oil tanker carrying 2.2 million barrels of crude oil— the largest ship ever to be hijacked? I focus on this question in two different registers. At one level, asking what makes piracy possible brings into view geographies of interaction stretching from London to Singapore, via Djibouti, Somalia, and Dubai, uniting a range of disparate actors from navies to magistrates and from insurance agents to self-proclaimed pirates themselves. Posing this question highlights shifts in regulation and geo-political realignments as well as competing ideas about legality and economy that made possible the emergence and transformation of a global world of piracy (and counter-piracy).
In addition, this question is equally important to understand interactions between diverse set of actors outside the national frame. While pirate boats appear tiny from the bridge of a container ship, even oil tankers are small specks in a vast global sea of trade. In an increasingly virtual era, shipping retains a crucial role in global commerce and the Indian Ocean is central to this world of trade. A host of technologies and modes of regulation, from navies to insurance contracts, are involved in making capital, labor and commodities move, channeling and protecting this global sea of trade. Maritime piracy represents not only an interruption, but also an attempt—framed through the threat of violence—of inserting oneself within this world of trade and provides a unique vantage point to understand processes and projects of creating jurisdiction in the absence of territorial sovereignty. Moving beyond the binaries of legal and illegal, land and sea and the geographical separation of Asia and Africa this book draws attention to the ways in which the seas continue to be key sites of regulation, connectivity, and commerce in a virtual age.
During my time at IIAS, I will also continue research for my second project, Navigating the Bab-el-Mandeb, that focuses on the materiality and mobility of navigation, including technologies of risk calculation, credit extension, and the daily forms of circulation and governance that occur across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a key maritime chokepoint connecting Asia and Africa.