Piracy in Somalia and Its International Implications

Last Updated: 28 Jan 2021
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PIRACY IN SOMALIA AND ITS INTERNATIONAL IMPLICATIONS In the past few years, pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia have received a great deal of public attention. According to the London-based International Maritime Bureau, there has been an “unprecedented increase” in Somali pirate activity in the first 9 months of 2009. Until September this year 147 incidents were reported off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden (separating Somalia and Yemen), compared with 63 for the same period last year.

A total of 533 crew members have been taken hostage in 2009, out of which about 200 hostages are still being held by Somali pirates. I have chosen the topic of piracy for my essay as I think that in the context of the present world economy crisis it is a current problem which might affect all the participants of the global economy and it needs an urgent solution. In the first part of my essay I am going to present some data to demonstrate the importance of the problem, then I will focus on the background of the issue and present the different factors which have led to the appearance of piracy.

After a detailed description of the pirates and their way of operation I will move on to presenting of the interests of the international community and the policies, strategies and instruments they have used to deal with the issue. At the end of my paper I will draw some conclusions and make a few suggestions for the future. Piracy has been a problem in Somali waters for at least ten years. However, the number of attempted and successful attacks has risen over the last three years.

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As the hijackings have increased in number, they have also become more sophisticated. The pirates are now able to capture larger targets as well. On September 25 2008, Somali pirates captured the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship transporting weapons to Kenya. This was followed one month later by the hijacking of the MV Sirius Star, the largest ship ever captured by pirates. The Saudi-owned supertanker was carrying about 2 billion barrels of crude oil, worth about $100 million. The ship was finally released on January 9 for a $3 million ransom.

The series of hijackings has continued in 2009 too. It seems that this year the pirates have shifted from the Gulf of Aden, where dozens of ships were attacked in 2008 but which is now heavily patrolled, to the ocean between the African mainland and the Seychelles islands. In October 2009 Somali pirates captured a Chinese bulk carrier, carrying 25 Chinese crew members. In November they have seized a US tanker carrying $20 million of crude oil, which is considered the second-largest ship ever hijacked by pirates.

The tankers 30-member crew was also kidnapped. In the same month, 9 pirates hijacked the Greek-owned tanker Maran Centaurus carrying 275,000 metric tons of Saudi Arabian crude oil and have taken it to a pirate port along the coast, where they typically hold the boats for ransom. The 300,000-tonne ship was hijacked about 1,300 km from the coast of Somalia and there were 28 crew members on board which are all held hostages. According to the IBM, in October and November alone, 38 ships have been attacked and 10 hijacked.

There are several factors which have made Somalia the perfect environment for piracy, which I am going to present below. First of all, if we want understand why piracy works in Somalia, we have to know something about the geography and history of the country. Officially called the Republic of Somalia, Somalia is a country situated in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Djibouti to the northwest, Kenya to the southwest, the Gulf of Aden with Yemen to the north, the Indian Ocean to the east, and Ethiopia to the west.

Due to its strategic location, in the past the country was an important centre of commerce. Even today, about 16,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, carrying oil from the Middle East and goods from Asia to Europe and North America, so we can say that one of the most important trade routes of the world can be found in this area. In addition, the long, isolated, sandy beaches of the country are also advantageous for pirates to operate. Another factor which helps piracy to flourish is the political anarchy which still rules in Somalia.

For almost 20 years, the country has endured political chaos and bloodshed. The Somali Civil, which began in 1991 as a revolution against the repressive regime of Siad Barre, has caused instability throughout the country. The northern parts of the country declared their independence, although it was neither recognized by the central government, nor by the United Nations. Subsequent fighting among rival warlords resulted in the killing, dislocation, and starvation of thousands of Somalis. Since 1991, 350,000-1,000,000 Somalis have died because of the conflict.

Hatred and lack of trust among the landlords and their clans has prevented the organisation of a functioning central government. From 2006-2009 Ethiopia was also involved in the conflict. In January 2009, Ethiopian soldiers withdrew from Somalia, leaving behind an African Union contingent of peacekeepers to help the fragile coalition government and its troops enforce their authority. Following Ethiopia's withdrawal from Somalia, the southern half of the country fell into the hands of radical Islamist  rebels, who still control a big part of the country. The political situation is still chaotic in Somalia.

The present government, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is the 16th administration to „govern” the country since the collapse of the Barre regime. Order still hasn’t been restored, Somalia is governed by anarchy. Because of the lack of an effective central government and national economy, Somalia is still one of the world’s poorest countries, where the estimated GDP is around $600 per year. According to the World Bank, in 2008 73% of the country’s population lived on a daily income below $2. The country’s 10 million people are starving, and they would hardly survive without the food aid provided by the developed countries.

In a country where survival is at stake, it is no surprise that piracy has become a fast and easy way to make money and it could develop into a frightening business. To sum up, we can say that Somalia’s chaotic political situation, the lack of an effective central government, the poor state of the economy and poverty have all created an environment which was perfect for piracy to appear. But who are these “heroes” and how do they operate? In most people’s minds, the image of piracy is associated with characters like Jack Sparrow or Captain Cook.

Pirates are often seen as rebellious young men who are victims of the society, but have the courage to stand up for themselves and create a different way of working on the seas. Actually, there is some truth in this kind of perception. According to Eric Hobsbawm, a British historian, “social bandits” are “outlaws, drawing on community support, using criminal methods to challenge the present hierarchy of power and wealth. ” Most of the Somali pirates are 20-35 years old and come from the region of Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Somalia.

It is estimated that there are at least five pirate gangs and more thousands armed men. A BBC report divided them into three main categories: local Somali fishermen (the “brains” of the operations because of their skills and knowledge of the sea); ex-militiamen (used as the “muscle”) and technical experts who are able to use electrical equipment, such as GPS devices at a professional level. It is a fact that since the country’s collapse in 1991, there has been a great amount of illegal fishing practised by a lot of countries along the Somali coast.

During the regime of Siad Barre (1986-1992) Somalia received aid from several countries to develop its fishing industry. Local fishermen had fixed prices for their catch and the fish was exported because of low demand for seafood in Somalia. However, after the fall of the Barre regime, due to the Somali Civil War the income from fishing decreased. Traditional coastal fishing became difficult, because foreign trawlers started fishing illegally along the Somali coast and depleted the fish stocks. Local fishermen became desperate. They started to band together and were determined to protect their resources.

They started attacking foreign trawlers, the crew of which soon fought back with heavy weapons. As a result, fishermen turned to other types of commercial ships and soon discovered that piracy was an easy way to make money. At the moment, piracy is Somalia’s most “lucrative business”: ship owners are willing to pay huge amounts of money for the release of their hijacked vessels. In addition to this, starting with the early 1990s, Somalia’s long, remote coastline has been used as a dump site for dangerous toxic waste from a lot of European and Asian companies.

The European Green party presented before the press and the European Parliament copies of contracts signed by two European companies - an Italian-Swiss and an Italian firm – and representatives of warlords, to accept 10 million tones of toxic waste in exchange for $80 million. For European companies this is a very cheap way of getting rid of their waste: while waste disposal costs in Europe are about $1,000 a tonne, this way it only costs them $2,50 a tonne. The effects of this dumping are already visible in Somalia.

According to a report by the UN Environment Programme, there is an extremely high number of cases of respiratory infections, mouth ulcers and bleeding and unusual skin infections among the inhabitants of the area – diseases related to radiation sickness. It is clear that this situation represents a very serious environmental risk not only to Somalia, but to the whole eastern Africa region. Many of the pirates call themselves the Somali “coast guard”, claiming that their aim is to defend their communities from overfishing and to protect the coastline from toxic dumping of nuclear waste by foreign ships.

In an interview one of the pirate leaders explained: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish and dump in our seas”. The problem of overfishing is still a very serious problem is Somalia. It is estimated that Europeans and Asians poach around $300 million worth fish from Somali waters. On the other hand, Somali pirates collect about $100 million yearly from ransoms. This, according to Peter Lehr, a Somalia piracy expert, can be seen as a “resource swap”. Of course, a great number of pirates are only taking part in these operations for the money, and their families which they can feed this way.

As one of them, nicknamed Milk Sucker says: “Sometimes doing a bad thing is the only way to improve the situation for yourself and the people you love”. Some of the pirates can’t even swim, their only task is to shoot straight. A lot of young Somalis take part only in a couple of operations, hoping to make enough money to move to the West or maybe to persuade an ethnic Somali woman with a EU passport to marry them and move to the UK. As for the techniques used by the pirates, we can notice that they are getting more sophisticated and more effective.

They are using the latest high-tech equipment, like GPS, MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defence Systems), RPGs and satellite phones and they are well-armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. They usually operate using small skiffs with powerful outboard engines, but now they regularly use “mother ships” to increase their range. These "mother ships” take them into the shipping lanes, several hundred miles offshore. Then they launch small speedboats to haul themselves up onto the deck of a ship. They can often seize a ship without firing a shot.

After capturing it, they sail the hijacked ship to the Somali pirate hub town, Eyl and take the hostages ashore where they are well-looked after until ransom is paid. It is reported that the pirates never harm their prisoners; they behave like “perfect gentlemen” with them. They even hire caterers on the Somali coast to cook pasta, grilled fish and roasted meat, which western hostages might like. Once ransom is paid, they release ships good humour. According to the Kenyan foreign minister, in 2008 pirates have received about $150 million in ransom, which is used to fund future operations.

In a recent startling Reuters report we can read that the pirates have started to make the money to work for them, setting up a stock exchange "that has drawn financiers from the Somali Diaspora and other nations. " The bandits' bourse is a small building in the once-small fishing village of Haradheere, about 250 miles northeast of Mogadishu, which has developed into a luxury town by now. As a former pirate named Mohammed puts it, “The shares are open to all and everybody can take part, whether personally at sea or on land by providing cash, weapons or useful materials ... we've made piracy a community activity. "

Unfortunately, it has become clear that the activity of pirates is linked to warlords on shore. After seeing the profitability of the business, these leaders started to facilitate pirate activities, sharing the profit with the pirates. These “Godfathers” and clan leaders are closely related to Somalia’s president in Mogadishu, Abdullahi Yusuf, who also originates from Puntland. Estimates are that at least six ministers in the Puntland government are involved with the pirates. The only group which is publicly against piracy is the militant Al-Shabaab, a Salafist group founded this decade as a militia attached to the Islamic Court.

They say that such crimes are forbidden under the Islamic law. However, according some reports, militant Islamist groups also get their share of the profit. The pirates involvement with these organisations is making the situation even more alarming, because all the financial help given by the West to the Somali authorities to put an end to piracy might just help it to flourish. All in all, it is clear that piracy is not a problem that the fragile Somali government can solve alone and international help is needed. How does all this affect the international community?

Besides enforcing international law, there are several other reasons to stop pirate activities. The first is Somalia itself. The country needs about 200 tonnes of food aid a year which is mostly delivered by sea. Without the naval escorts and the regular delivery of aid, Somalia’s food stocks are seriously threatened, so ensuring the safe delivery of food aid should be a number one priority for the international community. Stopping piracy may also reduce the money available for weapons, so indirectly it can lead to the end of the internal war.

Piracy has a very distressing effect on international trade as well. In addition to the growing ransom, companies whose cargos do not reach their destinations, lose money. As a result, there is a growth of insurance for all ships which need to pass through the Gulf of Aden. The constant danger of pirate attacks has already made some shipping companies to choose a longer, but safer route, around the Cape of Good Hope, as it happened in the case of AP Moller-Maersk, one of Europe’s largest shipping companies after the hijacking of Sirius Star.

The extra weeks of travel and fuel can lead to the cost of transporting goods, which is a really serious concern now, at the time of a global economic crisis. Another reason is related to the environment. Pirate attacks can cause major oil spills in a very sensitive ecosystem. As pirates become bolder and use more powerful weapons, tankers could be set on fire or sunk, which can result in an environmental catastrophe, destroying marine and bird life for many years to come. Last, but not least, there is a risk that the pirates themselves can become agents of terrorism.

There are assumptions according to which pirates are connected to the Al-Shabaab movement, which is believed to have links to Al-Qa’eda. According to some reports, Al-Qa’eda militants from Iraq have chosen Somalia as a new base from which to launch attacks. Terrorism at sea can take many forms, for example direct attacks on ships, hostage dramas, but also hijacked ships used as potential weapons. Terrorist networks can use the financial funds from piracy to fund their operations worldwide. It is obvious, that even if there is little chance for the worst scenario, it is best to prevent it while we can.

The international community has recognized that enhanced international efforts are necessary in order to reduce the number of attacks. The growing cases of piracy have focused the world's attention on Somalia and have shown that the crisis going on in a fragmented state is spilling out of its borders. The military response to piracy has shown that countries which haven’t been able to cooperate with each other can unite their forces for a common cause. A maritime conference was also held in Mombassa, where they discussed the problem of piracy and tried to give regional and world governments recommendations to deal with the danger.

In January 2009, an important regional agreement was adopted in Djibouti by States in the region, at a meeting organised by IMO. The Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden recognized the extent of the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region and the states signing it declared their intention to co-operate, in a way consistent with international law, in the repression of piracy and armed robbery against ships.

Most countries have preferred prevention: various navies have sent war-ships into the area to escort commercial vessels. At the beginning, this way of defense was more individual than collective, but the persistence of the attacks has led to the development of a collective security system. NATO got the task of escorting convoys transporting the humanitarian aid of the World Food Programme towards Somalia. Once they were in the Gulf of Aden, they also protected other merchants ships, by their presence.

Later NATO handed the job to Operation Atlanta, the first common maritime mission by the European Union. Military counter-piracy operations are performed by vessels from the Combined Task Force 150, a multinational coalition naval task force  in charge of monitoring and inspecting a range of security issues, such as drug smuggling and weapons trafficking, as well as piracy. Several countries, including India, Russia, China, Norway, Australia, France, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, South Korea, Malaysia and even Japan chose to join the coalition and send warships to the Gulf of Aden.

In January 2009 the US navy established a new multi-national naval force to confront piracy off the Somali coast. The new unit was called Combined Task Force 151and it was a spinoff of the existing Task Force 150 in the region. This section of the coalition forces was aimed at focusing exclusively on pirate groups (leaving Combined Task Force 150 to focus on other destabilizing activities, such as drug smuggling and weapons trafficking). It was hoped that by designating a new unit to combating piracy in Somalia, anti-piracy efforts would be more successful.

Unfortunately, this effort is having only a limited impact. Although some pirates are scared off by the sight of military ships and helicopters, coalition warships are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. In addition, pirates are flexible and change their tactics easily: data from the Maritime Bureau shows that at present they are conducting their operations further out in the Indian Ocean. Besides, this is a very costly solution which is difficult to support in the long term.

After the hijacking of an Egyptian ship and a huge Saudi supertanker, the Arab League organized a summit for countries overlooking the Red Sea, with the participation of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Jordan, Djibouti and Yemen. At the summit the participant states discussed several solutions for the problem of piracy, suggesting different routes and looking for a safer passageway for ships. They might also assist the current NATO anti-piracy efforts together with other nations.

However, we shouldn’t forget that the Arab League has long tried to draw Somalia more closely to the Arab world. It has made a financial support for the Transitional Federal Government, conditional on its entering negotiations with Al-Shabaab, intending to spread Islamist influence in the area. In June 2008 the United Nations Security Council passed a declaration authorizing nations that have the agreement of the Transitional Federal Government to enter Somali territorial waters to hunt pirates.

In 2008 the Security Council adopted two resolutions, 1846 and 1851 allowing for the first time international land and sea occupations of Somali territories in the pursuit of pirates. These resolutions extended the power of the states and lead to greater coordination of their efforts. After the Council resolution 1851, the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia was established on 14 January 2009 to facilitate and coordinate actions among states and organizations to deal with piracy. At the moment 46 States and seven international organizations take part in the Contact Group.

Through its four working groups, the Contact Group addresses specific issues related to military and operational coordination, legal issues, shipping industry awareness and public and diplomatic information. UNODC (the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) participates in the Contact Group and its Working Group on Military and Operational Coordination, Information Sharing and Capability-Building. UNODC acts as secretariat to Working Group on Judicial Issues, to which it has provided various forms of support.

UNODC has prepared an analysis of the legal and practical challenges involved in prosecuting suspected pirates and is gathering nformation on relevant national legal systems, including those of coastal States. In spite of the fact that laws to combat piracy at sea exist, a lot of states do not seem to use them in practice. Only France has chosen to combat piracy directly. The first case was the seizing of a yacht in April 2008, which started with negotiations for the release of 30 hostages and followed by the capture of six pirates in Somali territory.

The second case took place in September 2008 to free a couple taken hostages. This action also led to the arrest of six pirates, who are awaiting trial before a French court. Britain and some other countries have found a superficial and convenient way of treating the pirates: they have negotiated a treaty with Kenya, according to which all those suspected of piracy are handed over to that country. A few months later other countries followed Britain’s example, negotiating similar agreements. These agreements are a useful step, but they do not solve the problem.

The Kenyan prison system is in terrible condition, corruption is high, there are strong delays in the call of trials and legal aid is very limited. It is a paradox indeed that states which are entitled to prosecute the arrested pirates delegate this right to a country which is unable to assure a fair trial to these criminals. In spite of the united efforts of different nations, it has become clear that the piracy problem cannot be solved at sea, because it is rooted on the shore, in the ongoing conflict and political instability of the country.

As Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations expressed at an international donors’ conference: “Piracy is a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground. (…) More security on the ground will make less piracy on the seas” Any lasting solution to the problem has to involve ensuring stability, development and an effective criminal justice system in Somalia. If the states had invested the time and resources they now spend to stop piracy in reconstructing the Somali society and economy, they probably wouldn’t have to cope with these problems.

However, there are always new opportunities that shouldn’t be wasted. Martin Murphy in his article “Somali Piracy: not just a Naval Problem” claims that the highest costs of piracy to Somalia and the international community are not economic, but political. As I mentioned earlier, it seems that almost all layers of political life in Somalia are involved in piracy, including the Islamist groups. Islamism is getting stronger and stronger in Somalia and it can soon get hold of the entire country. The Al-Shabaab movement has a clear intention to use Somalia as a base for spreading Islamist influence in the region.

If this tendency continues, a worst possible outcome would be an Islamist government, which is strong enough to control piracy, but also strong enough to make Somalia safe for violent Islamist groups. So, what can be done to stop, or at least to decrease piracy in the Horn of Africa? Somalia is a clan-based society. Therefore, a possible solution would be to deal with the sub-state entities in order to create a unitary state in the future. In these negotiations the coalition should clearly commit itself to repress piracy in return for allied political and economic support.

This way it would be possible to cut off all the political players in Somalia from their external sources of weapons and thus pirates would be trapped between more effective land-base policy by the Somalis and maritime policy by coalition member navies and soon they would have no place to hide. Recent efforts have shown that there is a will to act together. We can only hope that the states will find a way to deal effectively with the problem before it is too late. Links, references: Roger Middleton: Piracy in Somalia. Africa Programme, October 2008 http://www. chathamhouse. org. uk/files/12203_1008piracysomalia. df Marina Chiarugi and Daniele Archibugi: Piracy challenges global governance. Open Democracy, 9 April 2009 http://www. opendemocracy. net/article/piracy-challenges-global-governance George Grant: Somali pirates can't be beaten at sea. The Guardian, 18 November 2009 http://www. guardian. co. uk/commentisfree/2009/nov/18/somali-pirates-ransom-puntland Galrahn: Somalia Piracy - A Backgrounder April 8, 2009 http://www. informationdissemination. net/2009/04/somalia-piracy-backgrounder. html Rubrick Biegon: Somali Piracy and the International Response. FPIF (Foreign Policy in Focus) January 29, 2009 http://www. pif. org/fpiftxt/5827 Georg-Sebastian Holzer: Somalia: piracy and politics. Open Democracy, 24 November 2008 http://www. opendemocracy. net/article/somalia-piracy-and-politics Johann Hari: You Are Being Lied to About Pirates. The Huffington Post, December 2009 http://www. huffingtonpost. com/johann-hari/you-are-being-lied-to-abo_b_155147. html Can Somali pirates be defeated? BBC News, 20 November 2009 http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/8371139. stm Sam Gustin: Bandit Bourse? Somali pirates hijack oil tanker, organize 'stock market' Daily Finance, December 1 2009 http://www. dailyfinance. om/2009/12/01/bandit-bourse-somali-pirates-hijack-oil-tanker-organize-stock/ Martin Murphy: Somali Piracy : not just a naval problem . Centre for Strategic and Bugetary Assessments, April 16, 2009 http://www. csbaonline. org/4Publications/PubLibrary/B. 20090417. Somali_Piracy/B. 20090417. Somali_Piracy. pdf Piracy in Somalia: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Piracy_in_Somalia Aiden Hartley: What I learned from the Somali pirates. The Spectator, 6 December 2008 http://www. spectator. co. uk/essays/all/3061246/what-i-learned-from-the-somali-pirates. thtml

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Piracy in Somalia and Its International Implications. (2018, Feb 10). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/piracy-in-somalia-and-its-international-implications/

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