Is It Really the End of Piracy off the Coast of Somalia?

[dropcap] T[/dropcap]he recent drop of successful acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden have led some experts to believe that we are witnessing the decline of piracy in this particular part of the world. They would believe this tendency to be a normal turn of fate since piracy is historically “a crime of the past”, which only occurs nowadays at this scale because of the specific political situation of Somalia.

However piracy off the Somali coast has far from given its last breath as its recent decline is only due to exceptional preventive measures implemented by the international community. Piracy off the coast of Somalia continues to pose a threat to the international community as the circumstances and conditions that have led to its upsurge and growth remain more than ever.

I-              Factors that have led to the emergence of piracy

Piracy off the Somali coast is often described, as relatively “exceptional” compared to the nature of piracy occurring in other parts of the globe mainly because of the disastrous political context of Somalia. The geographical area in which the pirates operate, the scale of hostage taking and the substantive amount of ransoms received pose a real threat to international trade. An analysis of factors contributing to the emergence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and their relevance, will allow us to better understand the potential risk of resurgence.

1-    Perception of Insecurity

Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world with a mortality rate among the highest on the planet. The chaotic situation in many parts of the country that frequently go through severe droughts which have recently killed more than 220,000 people and displaced 1.1 million in Somalia between 2010 – 2012, have led millions of Somali’s to flee especially towards neighbor countries [1]. This reality and perception of insecurity is a powerful incentive encouraging Somalis to commit illegal acts in order to protect themselves and their livelihoods against the uncertainty of the country situation.

2-    Alarming poverty

Somalia has one of the lowest Human Development Index rates in the world according to the United Nations. The country is often ranked among the poorest countries in the world with an average of 600USD per capita. Even though one could find industries in the country such as telecommunication that are thriving, a large majority of the population lives with very little means.

3-    Geographical location

Somalia End of PiracyThe 3000km2 of coastline of Somalia offers a wide range of possibility of access to the Indian Ocean to pirate groups and makes it even more challenging for the naval forces to monitor this area. The Red Sea/Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and it plays a vital role in supplying crucial a substantive number of countries including Europe in energy. The highjack of the Ukrainian boat MV Faina carrying grenades-launchers and 33 Russian-made tanks has urged the international community to address the urgency of finding a sustainable solution to the problem of piracy as the possibility of pirates having access to heavy military materials become a reality [2].

4-    Armed conflicts

Somalia has not really experienced any prolonged period of peace since the beginning of the civil war in the 90s. Somalia has often been theorized as the most glaring example of a failed state with the non-existence of a central government and institutions capable of ensuring its sovereign prerogatives. Institutional vacuum has created a geographical division, with different areas controlled by a multitude of armed factions who rely on tribal base. The advanced state of decay has also been conducive to the emergence of a number of armed groups inspired by religious beliefs such as Al-Shabaab group, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States [3]. This group is particularly active in Somalia and enjoys increased attention from the international community because of its connection to the nebulous Al Qaeda and its regional attacks undertaken in three countries in the region such as Uganda in 2010, Kenya in 2013 and Djibouti in 2014. This group, estimated around 3,000 men, controls a large part of the country and makes any kind of unification and peace goal difficult to achieve.

5-    Weak and permissive institutions

Despite the lack of federal authority over the entire territory, some regions such as Puntland have, more or less, a functional administration with the presence of some law enforcement units. The permissiveness shown by these administrations significantly contributes to the impunity felt by pirate action groups, and it is used as an argument to recruit candidates. The ambiguous relationship between pirate groups and officials is a worrisome phenomenon for states fighting piracy in this region. The arrest of Mohamed Abdi Hassan alias Afweyne in Belgium in October 2013, renowned leader of a pirate action group and responsible for dozens of acts of piracy, who hold a diplomatic passport at the time of his arrest highlights the ambiguous and disturbing relationship between the pirate groups and some officials [4].

6-    A disproportion between the risk and the gain

The huge amount of ransom money paid to pirate action groups for the release of vessels and crew members provides a strong incentive for piracy recruits. However, it is not uncommon that many people especially young people do not return from their dangerous sea expeditions, either because they got killed during hijacking attempts or died during the journey. Nevertheless, the prospect of quickly obtaining significant amounts of money (from 20 to 100,000 USD) continues to be a strong enough motivation for them to risk their life for [5].

7-    A solid maritime tradition

The composition of a typical pirate ship often consists of a person familiar with navigation techniques and having knowledge of surrounding waters. These people are usually selected from among the fishing communities along the coast, which have a solid maritime tradition.

The above factors undoubtedly led to the emergence of piracy off the Somali coast and related to the specific situation of Somalia. However, the reasons of the decrease of piracy are explained by the exceptional mobilization of the international community and the implementation of preventive measures in the military and operational fields.

II-            Proactive measures

1-    IMO best practices

The Implementation of the measures contained in the best practice guide by shipping companies has undoubtedly played a decisive role in reducing “acts of depredation” and hostage taking. The best practices guide, regularly updated, is a response to the pirate’s modus operandi and recommends preventive measures but also post-attack actions to reduce the effectiveness of attacks [6]. Some of the prescribed measures are the installation of fire pumps on the bridge to prevent ship boarding and the creation of fortified citadels for the crew to hide in until the arrival of assistance from patrolling warships .

2-    Military Initiatives

The deployment of military force is the second element of measures initiated by the international community [7].Indonesian peacekeepers The international community has tried to deter potential piracy acts and recruitment by showing their presence. Given the size of the coast of Somalia, the military strategy has been oriented towards the creation of a safe corridor for vessels transiting in this area. Such cooperation has been facilitated by the Contact Group on Piracy off the coast of Somalia, under which naval patrols evolved as a successful model for rapid and effective international coordination to suppress an international crime.

3-    Privately Contracted Armed Security Personnel (PCASPs)

The third and final element of prevention and undoubtedly the most controversial is the use of PCASPs. The practice is now widespread and a number of states have adopted legislation regulating the use of PCASPs on board their ships provided that they demonstrated their professionalism through compliance with international and national regulations. The use of men group to protect ship is not something new and it goes back to the trading organization formed in 1241 between the continental cities of Hamburg, Lubeck and other that hired men to protect their ships from the English pirates [8]. Nowadays, the practice remains controversial due to some concerns including over issues of jurisdiction and responsibility for wrongful acts by the PCASPs. Article 92 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea clearly identifies the flag State as holder of exclusive jurisdiction on the high seas. However, registration in the country of convenience, with has weak laws framing the use of PCASPs, would make it particularly difficult to control their professionalism with serious concerns about potential international law infringement [9]. Though the IMO has issued guidance for the use of PCASPs, which ultimately upholds the principle of flag State jurisdiction [10].

III-          An environment still conducive for the upsurge of piracy

The three prevention measures previously outlined above have definitely contributed to the decline of piracy off the coast of Somalia. However, the environment that led to the emergence of piracy in Somalia is still present and the specter of a second upsurge of this crime is a plausible scenario.

1- An organizational system still active

Modern piracy is primarily planned, organized and executed from ashore and in this sense, the organizational system of the piracy off the Somali coast is particularly impressive and undoubtedly related to the political situation and organizational system in the country. The division of labour and the ransoms sharing system suggest the presence of a well-organized system that is structured and optimized towards increasing the effectiveness of acts of piracy.

To be able to conduct more than 30 attacks per month, pirates from Somalia needed to have access to a large amount of funds which would allow them to purchase the necessary equipment, but also suggest the presence of a “pirate” market with merchant who would sell guns, food, boat etc. Studies have shown that there are some coastal communities that are organized for the sole purpose of not only preparing, but also managing the successful attacks [11]. One could find the presence ransom negotiators, bodyguards to protect pirates on land, people offering their services to keep the hostages and financial specialists to launder ransom [12].

Although there is a significant decrease in successful piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean area, it is reasonable to believe that the establishment of an organizational system so advanced cannot disappear so easily from the coastal communities. Given the current situation in Somalia, the resurgence of piracy off the Somali coast is most likely to happen if the preventive measures mentioned earlier would disappear specifically because veteran pirates are still present in Somalia, and, they have gained rich experience in the preparation and organization of acts of piracy.

2- Insufficient Legal proceedings

The internSG Ban speaks at Maritime Launchational community has implemented a set of measures to ensure effective legal proceedings against people suspected of acts of piracy in order to reduce impunity. Without going into the details of the nature of the judicial system put in place in the region, particularly in Somalia, it is pertinent to note that the number of persons brought before a court for acts of piracy, is relatively modest compared to the reality of diversion attempts from 2008 to 2014 [13]. The reasons for this situation are explained by the procedural, structural and political difficulties encountered by those who are fighting piracy in this area. Kenya’s reluctance to prosecute persons arrested by the foreign naval forces patrolling off the Indian Ocean, the refusal of Somaliland to judge people outside its territory suggest that political considerations remain an obstacle to judicial proceedings.

Conclusion

Piracy off the coast of Somalia has decreased not only because of the impressive international communities cooperation initiatives, which have certainly played a role but mainly because of the preventive measures taken by shipping companies such as the use of PCASPs and the implementation of IMO and industry- based best practices. However, the initial environment that led to the emergence of piracy are still present in Somalia and if the preventive measures should be abandoned by the shipping companies, it is to be expected that piracy off the coast of Somalia will emerge again. Should there be a failure by the international community to find a solution to the root causes of piracy in Somalia coupled with the existence of veteran pirates who are waiting for an opportunity to rebuild the pirates system, this would pose a serious threat to the repression of piracy, to the lives of seafarers and to global maritime trade.

 

 

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[1] United Nations, UN ramps up aid in drought-stricken Horn of Africa as number in need rises, available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39495#.U8Assaj6IzV

[2] New York Times, Somali Pirates Get Ransom and Leave Arms Freighter available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/world/africa/06pirates.html

[3] US Department of States, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, available at : http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm

[4] BBC, Somali pirate leader ‘Big Mouth’ arrested in Belgium ‘sting’, 14 October 2013 available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24519520

[5] Geopolicy (Mai 2011), The Economics of Piracy, Pirates Ransoms & livelihoods off the coeat of Somalia,  P.8.

[6] IMO BMP 4 Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy available at : http://www.imo.org/MediaCentre/HotTopics/piracy/Documents/1339.pdf

[7] European Initiatives called EUNAVFOR available at: http://eunavfor.eu/

[8] Douglas Richard Burgess II, Hostis Humani Generis: Piracy, Terrorism And a New International Law, The university of British Columbia, 1995

[9] Carolin Liss, Privatising the fight against Somali pirates, Asia Research Center, Working Paper No.152, November 2008

[10] IMO guidance on PCASPs, available at: http://www.imo.org/Documents/IMO_Piracy_Guidance.pdf

[11] IGAD, Somalia Inland Strategy and Action Plan to Prevent and Counter Piracy 2010 – 2015, 23 February 2012, p.42.

[12] Stockbruegger, The Mogadishu Roadmap: towards a joint maritime security policy for Somalia? 15 October 2011, p.224.

[13] UNODC, Counter Piracy Programme, Support to the Trial and Related Treatment of Piracy Suspects, June 2011.

 

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