A group of twenty-five scholars, diplomats, lawyers, military officers, shipping industry officials, and other experts on maritime piracy and Somalia from nine nations who convened at the Harvard Kennedy School in December 2009 have recommended that one of the ways of exerting control over and reducing the threat from pirates is to recognize Somaliland.
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“If African states and the AU can be persuaded to recognize the now independent but otherwise unacknowledged polity of Somaliland, doing so will strengthen the incentives for Puntland, which aspires to greater autonomy, and parts or all of the remainder of Somalia to make similar progress in terms of political institution-building. Recognition of Somaliland will thus assist in strengthening accountability and governance in regions that are now pirate infected. Indeed, if Puntland knew that international engagement were possible, following on a full recognition of Somaliland, a powerful incentive would exist for Puntland to exert control over and reduce the threat from pirates on its soil,” the experts said
Read below for the full text of the group’s recommendations for combating maritime piracy off the Somalia coasts:
Combating Maritime Piracy: A Policy Brief With Recommendations For Action
January 26, 2010
Robert I. Rotberg
Maritime piracy continues, especially off the Somali coasts, despite significant efforts by shipping companies, captains, and crews; major international surveillance and prevention efforts by naval and air task forces; and growing intelligence about the pirates onshore and offshore. In 2009, pirates attacked a total of 217 ships (22,000 ships passed through the Gulf of Aden alone, and others traversed the wider waters of the Indian Ocean), with 47 successful hijackings and the collection, in 2009, of more than $60 million in ransom payments. Some of the captured merchant ships and crew were held off the Somali coast for as long as nine months before being ransomed. One large oil tanker was ransomed in 2009 for about $5 million, the largest ransom payment on record until the reported $5.5 to $7 million ransom paid for a Greek-owned oil tanker in early 2010. In 2008, only 111 ships were attacked, up from approximately 50 in 2007. Of the 2008 attempted hijackings, 32 were successful. About $55 million was delivered to the pirates for ransom in 2008. The profits foregone and losses entailed by being hijacked in both 2008 and 2009 probably equaled the amounts paid in ransom. Thus the costs to the industry each year due to Somali piracy were at least $100 million.
At the beginning of 2010, 12 of the 47 vessels successfully hijacked in 2009 were still being held, along with 263 crew members. They were joined within the first few days of January by two ships, a British cargo vessel taken 600 miles east of Somalia and a Singaporean chemical tanker en route to India seized in the Gulf of Aden, where no ship had been successfully hijacked since July 2009. At least 24 mariners from those ships joined the 263 already held.
Until international naval patrols began seriously in the Gulf of Aden in mid-2009, most of the pirate activity was located within the Gulf itself, a 205,000 square mile collection of very busy shipping lanes connecting the Suez Canal and the Red Sea with the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and points east. After convoying and international military intervention substantially reduced pirate predations in the relatively confined Gulf of Aden (with the pirates based on the Gulf’s southern Somali shores or, sometimes, along the Yemeni shores on the north of the Gulf), the pirates began to pounce on unsuspecting cargo vessels as far off the east-facing Somali shores as the Seychelles, 1,000 miles deep into the Indian Ocean. Just before the end of 2009, a Greek freighter was captured 200 nautical miles east of Seychelles, farther than any pirates had hitherto ventured. Pirate mother ships (often commandeered deep-sea industrial fishing vessels) have also ranged, with their fast skiffs at the ready, as far as Tanzania and Comoros to the south. The M/V Delfina was attacked nearly 400 miles southeast of Dar es Salaam on November 2009. Thus, more than 2.5 million square miles of ocean became a zone of unexpected risk in 2009 and continued to be so into 2010.
The Somali coastline is more than 1,800 miles long, from the Djibouti-Somaliland border in the northwest to the Somali-Kenyan border in the southwest. For 690 miles, to Cape Guardafui jutting out into the Gulf of Aden toward Socotra and Yemen, the shores run along the Gulf. Then they turn due south toward Kenya, 1,110 miles away, past Puntland and Somalia.
Another way of conceptualizing the region in question is to understand that the coastlines alone of the greater Horn of Africa and Yemen total 5,510 miles. Only Yemen and Kenya have even rudimentary maritime patrol capabilities. Three large coalitions of naval forces conduct counter-piracy patrols in the vast area: Combined Maritime Forces of NATO (Operation Ocean Shield); the EU’s NAVFOR Somalia (Operation Atalanta); and Commander, Naval Forces U.S. Central Command in Bahrain, serving as Commander Maritime Force for Combined Task Forces 151, which was led in recent months by Pakistani, Australian, Singaporean, and United Arab Emirates flag officers. Still, with only two dozen patrol ships on station, all manner of small ship or casual dhow can and do evade land-based and now sea- and air-based surveillance efforts. Nevertheless, in 2009, the combined maritime operations of NATO and allied forces disrupted 411 pirate operations of 706 encountered; delivered 269 pirates for prosecution under prevailing legal interpretations to Kenya and other jurisdictions (of whom 46 were jailed); and killed 11 pirates. The combined operations also destroyed 42 pirate vessels; confiscated 14 boats, hundreds of small arms, nearly fifty rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and numerous ladders, grappling hooks, GPS receivers, mobile phones, etc.
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Task Force 150 has responsibility for sea-borne counter-terrorism efforts in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Gulf of Oman. It can interdict pirates, but that is not its prime purpose. Task Force 151 is responsible for the Gulf of Aden and the Somali basin and is the primary counter-piracy operation of the allied effort. Since it has extensive geographical authority, Task Force 151 ranges beyond the Gulf of Aden and well into the Indian Ocean in response to increased piratical attacks more than 1,000 miles east of Somalia. Task Force 152, whose mission is the interdiction of terrorists and related materials, operates in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf from a base in Abu Dhabi. Forty-five nations contributed servicemen and women, helicopters, drones, fixed-wing aircraft, and naval vessels to these three task forces and to the NATO and EU efforts in 2009 and early 2010.
What became clear in 2008 and 2009, and continued into 2010, is that Somali maritime piracy is big business. About 1,500 pirates are involved, with 7 syndicates and fewer “bosses” controlling separate but linked enterprises largely financed and brokered from Kenya, Dubai, Lebanon, Somalia, and elsewhere. (Russia has also been mentioned.) The appropriation of sizable ransoms, not thefts of valuable cargo or thefts from individual yachtsmen or seafarers, is the goal. There are no political motives or ideological drivers, despite the widespread assertion (part-fact and part-myth) that piracy began in the earlier years of the last century in retaliation against and in response to European, Egyptian, Indian, Taiwanese, Thai, Korean, and Japanese trawlers illegally fishing in Somali waters and depleting accustomed catches. There are assertions, too, that illegal dumping of radioactive and other waste has occurred, angering those who have become Somali pirates. But there is no hard evidence of such illicit dumping. Moreover, the persons who are engaged in piracy, based either in northern or southern Puntland or at the northeast extremities of what is left of Somalia, were in their former lives rarely fishermen, an occupation to which non-Somali from the Shebele River area were traditionally the leading devotees. Most of today’s pirates are unemployed young men from two of Somalia’s clans; many of them are ex-militia from the internal wars of the south attracted to piracy by the opportunities for gain that piracy has revealed. Somaliland, which has a much more stable and functional government than does Puntland or Somalia (which has warlords rather than governance), has not harbored pirates despite its location along the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden, adjacent to piracy syndicates based in northern Puntland.