Warships in Gulf of Aden.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Somalian pirates have caused mayhem in the waters off the Indian Ocean coast of
Somalia, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, where more than 20,000
ships transit the waters annually.
The Gulf of Aden is now considered the
world’s most dangerous due to persistent pirates, who have became more
sophisticated and broadened their range of attack.
Dozens of warships,
most notably from US, EU and NATO are currently patrolling the waters under a UN
mandate to deter the pirate attacks. But this has not deterred the pirates from
disrupting the free passage of vessels in the shipping lane.
questions have been raised about the capability of the naval forces to counter a
land-based menace. Is international anti-piracy policy effective, or is forming
regional maritime force that can fight on land the most cost-effective and
lasting solution? The operating cost of anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden
is estimated at $2 billion annually, including the cost of naval vessels,
aircraft and military personnel.
If 30 percent of this amount could go to
fighting on land, it would have piracy in Gulf of Aden by at least
At least 19 foreign vessels with 257 crew members, including a
Panama-flagged Ro/Ro cargo ship with 24 crew members reportedly seized on
Friday, February 18 off the Somalian coast, are currently in the hands of
Operating only at sea has allowed the buccaneers to carry out
attacks from the mainland or even nearby islands, “mother ships,” using
There are several pirate strongholds off Somali coastlines,
including two main towns of Hobyo and Harardhere, where at least 10 vessels are
still being held by the pirates. Both towns are well known to be where pirates
and their beneficiaries hide themselves to await the multi-billion dollar
A RESEARCH document, entitled “Treasure Mapped: Using Satellite
Imagery to Track the Developmental Effects of Somali Piracy,” by Dr. Anja
Shortland, is claiming that around a third of pirate ransoms (in between US $7b.
and US $12b. annually) are converted into Somali shillings, benefiting laborers
and pastoralists in Puntland.
If Dr. Anja knows where pirates’ ransoms
end up, why can’t international maritime actors coordinate with the locals to
detain the ransom receivers based inside Somalia? This is what many Africans are
asking themselves, including One Somali elder in Puntland, Sheikh Ahmed
He argued that if international anti-piracy forces are serious
about their fight against piracy, they could come here (Puntland) and at least
handle them on land whenever they are in the country.
On the other hand,
a leaked draft from the London Conference on Somalia, which took place at
Lancaster house on February 23, 2012, said that “On piracy, we agreed that the
roots of the issues are on land not at sea, and our work on regional stability
would be central to tackling the causes of piracy.”
The draft stated that
the Republic of Seychelles has found ways to accept custody of pirates captured
by naval forces and try them, and a number of regions of Somalia are now
agreeing to imprison those found guilty;“We noted the creation of a regional
anti-piracy prosecution and information coordination in the Seychelles which
will look at disrupting the money involved in piracy activity and seek to
prosecute those who benefit from the proceeds of crime,” the draft said, adding,
“We welcome the European Union commitment to supporting better maritime security
arrangements from neighbouring states of East Africa.”
naval forces inside Somalia can only disrupt the ransoms, compared to Seychelles
or other African countries. Take a look at this example: On January 24, 2012,
two Danish Refugee Council workers held hostage by Somali pirates were rescued
by US military forces that flew in helicopters under the cover of darkness in a
raid on a Somali village. The planes landed at the town’s airport on the night
of January 23 before they carried out the overnight raid on a tiny village
located in between the regions of Mudug and Galgadud.
Only one raid that
was carried out on land this year has succeeded, and this can be equivalent to
four to six raids at the sea.
There are reports of naval forces targeting
Somali fishermen because it is hard for them to differentiate.
example of a success story, Puntland, which declared itself an independent state
in 1998, enjoys relative peace compared to south central Somalia which has been
ravaged by bloody conflict since 1991, and is home to local armed militia and a
notorious base used by local pirates to launch attacks on merchant vessels
transiting the Indian Ocean.The writer is a freelance journalist,
covering stories around East Africa, especially Somalia.