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By David H. Shinn Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs George Washington University Introduction Somali piracy has rightly captured the attention of both governments and the media in the past two years. In the first nine months of 2009, Somali piracy accounted for more than half of all actual and attempted attacks throughout the world. The number of attempted attacks as of the beginning of December already surpassed the total that occurred in 2008. Successful Somali hijackings, however, have fallen in number. Somali piracy, which was previously concentrated in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast, is now occurring more frequently in the waters between Somalia and the Seychelles, off the Kenyan coast, in the Red Sea and as far away as Oman. The area subject to attack now covers more than a million square miles of water. This is a region about the size of India. It is simply not possible for the thirty or so international naval vessels currently engaged in anti-piracy operations to cover such a vast expanse of water. Nor are there adequate numbers of available ships to effectively patrol this huge region. Successful Somali piracy almost always involves hostage taking and the payment of ransom before the ship and crew are released. The Somalis rarely tamper with the cargo on board the captured ships. This is a business, albeit criminal, designed to extract as much money as possible from ship owners and/or nations that provide most of the crew. Somali pirates are equal opportunity criminals; they attack western and third world vessels and crews as well as Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Russian. Somali pirates like to point out that they were driven to this activity because foreign fishing vessels have for many years been illegally plundering their 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). While the Somalis have legitimate complaints about illegal foreign fishing, it is no justification for piracy. In any event, the vast majority of pirate attacks do not involve foreign fishing vessels and increasingly they occur well outside Somalia’s 200 mile EEZ. Most of the attacks in the Gulf of Aden occur off Yemen and Somaliland, which in 1991 declared its independence from Somalia, where the pirates have their bases in small coastal towns like Eyl, Haradhere, Garad, Ras Alula and Hobyo. In fact, Somaliland, in spite of its poverty and weak police force, has done a good job of preventing piracy. It has little capacity to stop piracy in the water along the coastal area but has developed a reasonably effective local law enforcement and militia that seems to have kept the pirates out of Somaliland. The semi-autonomous state of Puntland, on the other hand, has become ground zero for Somali piracy. The new leadership in Puntland says that it is trying to stamp out the practice, but has been singularly ineffective in doing
2 so.1 The former president of Puntland, General Adde Muse Hersi, recently claimed that some members of Puntland’s militia are even taking part in piracy.2 Piracy is, of course, a global problem. The waters off Africa have become, however, particularly dangerous. It is an increasing menace along the west coast of Africa, especially in Nigerian waters where a variety of issues seem to motivate piracy. There is a more limited piracy problem aimed at ships steaming close to the Tanzanian coast or at anchorage in Dar es Salaam that usually involve efforts to break into cargo on board. These attacks do not follow the Somali pattern and are almost certainly conducted by persons based in Tanzania. This paper deals exclusively with Somali piracy. The Growth of Somali Piracy Somali piracy began as early as 1989, but disappeared in 1992. It returned in 1993, increased in 1994-1995, declined again in 1996 and then slowly rose between 1997 and 2000. It stabilized and rose sharply in 2004-2005, putting Somalia on the international maritime security map for the first time. It declined during 2006 when the Islamic Courts, which briefly controlled much of Somalia, cracked down on piracy. Actual and attempted attacks increased in 2007 and exploded in 2008.3 The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) International Maritime Bureau (IMB) documented ninety-two actual and attempted pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden/Red Sea and another nineteen off Somalia in 2008. These 111 attacks, all of which can probably be attributed to Somali pirates, constituted 38 percent of the 293 pirate attacks worldwide in 2008. Of this global total, there were forty-nine successful hijackings; all but seven of them took place in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia. As a result, an astounding 86 percent of all hijacked vessels globally occurred at the hands of Somali pirates. All of the ships successfully hijacked by Somali pirates were steaming when the attack occurred. For that matter, all of the attempted but failed attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia involved steaming ships. On a global basis, the vast majority of attacks took place against container ships, bulk carriers, chemical tankers, general cargo ships and tankers. This general pattern also applied to attacks by Somali pirates. During 2008, Somali pirates took 815 crew members hostage. Four crew members died directly or indirectly as a result of the attacks, two were injured and another fourteen were missing and feared dead. At the end of 2008, Somali pirates held thirteen vessels and 242 crew members for ransom.4 During the first nine months of 2009, the IMB documented 306 pirate attacks worldwide; 55 percent were attributed to Somali pirates. The geographical reach of the Somalis became much wider with 100 attacks in the Gulf of Aden, one off Kenya, fifteen in the Red Sea, forty-seven off Somalia, one in the Arabian Sea, one in the Indian Ocean and four off Oman. Of the thirty-four ships successfully hijacked globally in the first nine months of 2009, all but two were the work of Somali pirates and one of those, an attack on a ship anchored off Kenya, was probably done by Somalis. All thirty-two vessels hijacked by Somalis were steaming at the time of capture. Somali pirates took 533 crew members hostage. A further eight were injured, four killed and one missing. The Somalis targeted bulk carriers, containers, fishing vessels, RoRos, tankers, tugs and yachts. The Somalis employed automatic weapons and RPGs more frequently to intimidate the Master of the vessel to stop.5
Recent Developments Somali piracy is constantly changing. The Somalis are entrepreneurial, flexible and adaptive. The primary goal is making money; if the costs become too high or the task too difficult, the Somalis will seek another way to carry on piracy. The presence of additional naval vessels in the relatively confined waters of the Gulf of Aden, increased vigilance and stronger counter measures by crews and even special security teams have sharply reduced pirate activity in those waters. The Commander of the European Union naval operation, Peter Hudson, announced in early December that there have been no hijackings in the Gulf of Aden since July 2009.6 This has not, however, diminished Somali piracy in the wider region. It has only caused the pirates to seek targets further from shore, make more frequent use of lethal weapons and probably take higher risks. As of 9 November 2009, Somali pirates held eleven ships and crew hostage in Somali ports. The vessels included:7 • Taiwanese tuna boat. • Maltese-flagged ship owned by Greece and crewed by twenty-four Ukrainians seized north of Madagascar. • 2,800 ton cargo ship and nine crew members attacked south of Oman. • 3,716 ton Spanish fishing vessel and thirty-six crew members seized 400 nautical miles northwest of Seychelles. • 24,637 ton container ship and crew of twenty-one seized 300 nautical miles north of Seychelles. • 76,000 ton Chinese bulk carrier of coal and twenty-five Chinese crew hijacked 550 nautical miles northeast of the Seychelles and 700 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The ship is being held at Hobyo. • 38,305 ton Panamanian-registered bulk carrier and twenty-six, primarily Indian, crew seized 180 nautical miles west of Seychelles. • 38 foot yacht owned by a British couple seized off Tanzania. • Thai tuna boat with twenty-three Russians, two Filipinos and two Ghanaians seized 200 nautical miles north of the Seychelles and 650 nautical miles off the Somali coast. • 53,629 ton bulk carrier with twenty-one crew from the Ukraine and the Philippines seized 250 nautical miles northwest of Madagascar. • Panamanian-flagged vessel and eighteen crew carrying general cargo from the UAE to Mogadishu. The ICC Commercial Crime Services maintains a live piracy report.8 A recent snapshot of attempted and successful attacks is instructive. Between November 13 and December 1, 2009, it recorded twenty-one pirate attacks globally. Somali pirates accounted for ten of the attacks. They took the following form: November 16 – Pirates armed with machine guns attacked, boarded and hijacked a chemical tanker steaming about 600 nautical miles southeast of Mogadishu. They took 28 North Korean crew members hostage. November 16 – Pirates armed with guns in two speed boats chased and fired upon a general cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. The ship took evasive maneuvers and prevented boarding.
4 November 18 – Pirates chased and fired upon a container ship about 600 nautical miles northeast of Mogadishu. The crew took antipiracy measures and an onboard security team returned fire. The pirates aborted the attack. November 19 – Pirates armed with guns chased and attempted to board a bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden. The Master took evasive action, called for naval warship assistance and mustered the crew. The pirates opened fire on the ship but gave up the chase. November 20 – Six pirate boats with a mother vessel in sight chased and opened fire on an oil tanker 1050 nautical miles east and south of Mogadishu. Two RPGs penetrated into the port bridge door. One crew member sustained injuries. The pirates aborted the attempt after three hours. November 20 – Eight pirates in one craft and four in another, armed with machine guns and an RPG attacked a bulk carrier 1050 nautical miles east and south of Mogadishu. They fired at the ship with machine guns and the RPG and attempted to board. The crew activated anti-piracy measures and foiled the attempt. November 24 – Four pirates in a skiff fired upon and attempted to board a tanker 1100 nautical miles east of Mogadishu. The ship sustained damage but the pirates aborted the effort. November 26 – Pirates armed with an RPG and machine guns in two skiffs chased and fired upon a container ship 470 nautical miles south and west of Mogadishu. The Master took evasive measures and the pirates aborted the attack after three hours. November 29 – Armed pirates hijacked a Greek-flagged tanker 970 nautical miles east and north of Mogadishu. They sailed the ship and the twenty-eight crew to the Somali coast. December 1 – Armed pirates in a skiff opened fire on a tanker 1200 nautical miles northeast of Mogadishu. The crew used water jets and evasive maneuvers that prevented the pirates from boarding. These ten recent attacks by Somali pirates are indicative of the current state of Somali piracy. Four of the attacks took place more than 1000 nautical miles from Mogadishu. Only two of the ten attacks were successful and both of the attempts in the Gulf of Aden failed. This reflects a diminishing success rate by Somali pirates throughout 2009. The pirates have not, however, reduced their attempts to hijack vessels. Except for the two attacks in the Gulf of Aden, the nearest ship to Somalia was 470 nautical miles away at the time of the attack. In every case, the pirates fired on the ship in an effort to force it to stop, suggesting a growing tendency to use force. Although Somali pirates do occasionally attack fishing boats, all ten of these vessels were tankers, container ships or bulk carriers. The Somali pirate argument that they are trying to stop illegal fishing in Somali waters is at this point a fiction. In any event, it is difficult to believe that the Master of any fishing boat would be foolish enough to enter Somalia’s 200 mile EEZ under the current circumstances. Economics of Somali Piracy So far, Somali piracy has been all about extracting ransom payments. Some of the ransoms obtained a year or two ago were quite modest. The Somalis have learned, however, that by seizing more valuable vessels and cargo, they can obtain higher ransom payments. The Saudi-owned oil tanker, Sirius Star, seized in 2008 reportedly netted $3
5 million for the pirates. That seems to have set the standard for vessels of such importance. The pirates may claim they have received higher ransoms than is actually the case in order to up the ante for hijacked ships in the future. For the most part, ship owners do not confirm the amount that they have paid and sometimes deny they even paid a ransom. The Maltese-flagged Greek ship noted above was released in November for $3.7 million according to the pirates. The owners did not confirm the amount. The Spanish fishing vessel cited above was also freed in mid-November. A pirate source said the owners paid $3.3 million; the Spanish government said it did what was necessary to obtain release of the ship but did not acknowledge a ransom payment. Pirates are demanding $3.5 million for the Chinese bulk carrier of coal, $3 million for the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship and $7 million for the hapless British couple who reportedly invested their life savings in the hijacked yacht. Relatively small amounts of the ransom payments go to the young Somalis who take the most risk and board the hijacked vessels. Most of the money ends up in the hands of the organizers of the operations in Somalia and various intermediaries involved in the payment process. Nevertheless, the actual pirates earn by their modest standards a princely sum that justifies continuation of the practice. It sure beats fishing. Issues for the Future A combination of increased naval patrols and more effective anti-piracy measures by the Masters of vessels has reduced the Somali pirate success rate. Many ships are still not taking adequate steps, however, to maximize their chances of warding off pirate attacks such as stringing barb wire along the free board, using high pressure water hoses, high frequency sound devices, caustic lime powder and even petrol bombs in some cases. This is the single most important action that can be taken to reduce piracy in the region. Although naval forces and individual ship Masters are being increasingly aggressive in dealing with piracy, they need to be even more aggressive. About 20 percent of the ships now transiting the region are armed. Even those with special security teams, however, seem to confine their response to firing warning shots at fast approaching pirate skiffs in the open ocean. Although this tactic usually deters the pirates, it serves as no real disincentive and only results in an attack on an unarmed vessel. The time has come to dispense with the warning shots and fire live ammunition directly at the approaching skiffs. After all, the pirates are shooting at their intended target. This kind of response will send a meaningful message.9 The handling of captured pirates is a serious problem. Between January and August 2009, Combined Task Force-151 and other cooperating naval forces encountered 527 pirates. They disarmed and released 282 of them; disarmed and turned over for prosecution 235 and killed ten.10 The legal community has established a high bar for successful prosecution and the commanders of naval ships are reluctant to transport pirates to the few locations, especially Kenya, where they can be prosecuted. Hence, there are numerous cases where pirates are simply disarmed and released because they were not caught “in the act of piracy” or it is just too much trouble. In a few cases, the pirates have even been given assistance so that they can return safely to the Somali shore. The assumption is that those disarmed and released pirates quickly return to piracy.
6 Unless they are prosecuted, there is no incentive to give up piracy. With some important exceptions, there has been too much coddling of captured pirates.11 In an agreement with the Seychelles, the United States recently deployed MQ-9 Reaper drones that are capable of scouring the Indian Ocean with their infra-red eyes. The drones are remotely controlled and can fly up to eighteen hours at a time. This will permit the United States to monitor wide areas of pirate infested waters.12 Other than providing warnings of potential attacks, however, the intelligence will only be of value if naval ships in the region are prepared to be more aggressive in taking action against the pirates. In certain cases, this should include the capture and possible destruction of mother ships found in international waters. The UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou ould Abdallah, recently urged that the international community crack down on pirates’ financial backers located outside Somalia.13 This is another promising area for putting pressure on the Somali piracy operation. There has been very little evidence linking Somali piracy and the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia. Except that they have no respect for international norms, the two groups have nothing in common. The pirates seek to make money and alShabaab is trying to take over a country and impose its extremist Islamic agenda. Most experts on Somali piracy dismiss out of hand any link between the two. That may be too facile. The pirates and al-Shabaab may find that it is in their interest to develop a marriage of convenience. A recently released Canadian intelligence report acquired under the Access to Information Act concluded that al-Shabaab has been arming and training pirates in exchange for a share of their spoils. Canada’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre said that al-Shabaab has formed a “relationship of convenience” with one of the two main pirate networks operating out of Mudug. Al-Shabaab provides weapons, combat training and local protection to the pirates, who then give al-Shabaab cash, captured weapons or other material stolen from the hijacked ships.14 It is time to take a closer look at possible collaboration between some Somali pirates and al-Shabaab.
Stig Jarle Hansen, “Piracy in the Greater Gulf of Aden: Myths, Misconceptions and Remedies,” Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Report No. 2009:29, pp. 30-41. See at www.nibr.no/uploads/publications/26b0226ad4177819779c2805e91c670d.pdf. Lauren Ploch, et al., “Piracy off the Horn of Africa,” Congressional Research Service, R40528, 28 September 2009, p. 7. See at www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40528.pdf. 2 “Former President Says Puntland’s Troops Join Pirates,” Shabelle Media Network (Mogadishu), 29 November 2009. 3 Hansen, p. 19. 4 ICC International Maritime Bureau, “Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships,” Annual Report: 1 January - 31 December 2008, pp. 1-22. See at www.icc-ccs.org. 5 ICC International Maritime Bureau, “Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships,” Report for the Period 1 January – 30 September 2009, pp. 1-23. See at www.icc-ccs.org. 6 Lucas Barasa, “East Africa: Operation to Fight Piracy a Success,” Daily Nation (Nairobi), 1 December 2009. 7 “Ships Held by Somali Pirates,” Reuters, 9 November 2009. 8 See “Live Piracy Report” at www.icc-ccs.org. 9 Jason Straziuso, “Maersk Alabama Repels 2nd Pirate Attack with Guns,” Associated Press, 18 November 2009. Horand Knaup, “Increased Violence on the High Seas,” Spiegel Online, 19 November 2009. “Admiral: Can’t Stop All Pirate Attacks,” Associated Press, 2 December 2009. Matthew Saltmarsh, “Pirates Widen Range, Straining Naval Patrols,” New York Times, 20 November 2009. 10 Ploch, 20. According to the U.S. Central Command, between August 2008 and September 2009, naval forces disarmed and released 343 pirates compared to 212 who were sent for prosecution. See Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Marie Woolf, “Navy Releases Somali Pirates Caught Red-Handed,” Sunday Times (London), 29 November 2009. 11 Ungoed-Thomas and Woolf. Will Ross, “Drones Scour the Sea for Pirates,” BBC, 11 November 2009. 12 Jim Couri, “Somali Pirates: Anti-Piracy Combat Coordinated between Seychelles and US,” American Chronicle, 9 November 2009. Kevin Kelley, “Killer US Drones Pursuing Pirates off the Horn,” The East African, 9 November 2009. Will Ross. 13 “UN Envoy Urges Crackdown on Somali Pirates Backers,” Javno, 2 December 2009. 14 Stewart Bell, “Somali Militants Training Pirates,” National Post, 3 December 2009.