Somalia pirates: unbeaten, but under pressure
23 February 2012, 09:31
Nairobi - Foreign navies and armed guards on boats have badly dented the
cutthroat capabilities of marauding Somali pirates, but ending the
scourge requires land-based solutions, analysts warn.
pirates remain a fearsome force prowling far across the Indian Ocean
seizing ships for ransom, costing the world billions of dollars each
year and now branching out to increasing land-based attacks.
rates have plummeted, and pirates have a hard time capturing ships,"
said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian academic and Somalia expert, noting
increased assaults by foreign navies on vessels used as pirate
One reason for the decline in successful attacks
has been the increased use by shipping of armed guards and other
security measures, said J Peter Pham, of the Atlantic Council think
"Most of the credit actually belongs to the shipping
industry... whose adoption of defensive "best practices" and increased
deployment of private armed security has effectively hardened vessels
against seizure," Pham said.
But as successful attacks decline,
ransom prices have risen: the average pay climbed to $5m in 2011 from
$4m in 2010, according to the US-based Oceans Beyond Piracy monitoring
Somali attacks cost the world about $7bn in 2011,
including more than $2bn for military operations, armed guards and
equipment to protect ships, the group estimated in a report earlier this
Multiple pirate gangs hold a grim trophy haul of at least
34 vessels and over 400 hostages, according to the monitoring group
Ecoterra, many seized by the use of small skiffs, grappling hooks and
However, while such "aggressive
levels" of foreign naval patrols have thwarted attacks, such tactics
provide no long-term solution, said Rashid Abdi, a long-time Somalia
"There has been a significant scaling up of these naval operations, but that in itself is no comfort," said Abdi.
"The counter piracy naval patrols in Somalia may just be simply displacing the problem."
warships only stopping individual attacks, analysts say that a
land-based solution is required to provide impoverished communities with
a reason not to resort to piracy.
"The solution is still
onshore, especially to build up Puntland," Hansen said, referring to
Somalia's semi-autonomous northern region, where many pirate gangs are
Ransom cash is funnelled to Puntland's cities of Garowe
and Bosasso with little long-term benefit for the coastal communities
who carry out the attacks, Britain's Chatham House think tank said in
Efforts should be made therefore to approach coastal
communities to "offer them an alternative that brings them far greater
benefits than hosting pirates does", Anja Shortland wrote in the report.
impact of piracy remains huge, and finding solutions to end the menace
was a key driver behind Britain's decision to mobilise international
players at a February 23 London conference on Somalia.
"If I were
a Somali I would thank Allah for the pirates," wrote Richard Dowden,
the director of Britain's Royal African Society, arguing that the world
had ignored Somalia for two decades as "civil wars destroyed the
"But the seizure of more than 200 ships by kids with
guns in small craft has changed all that," Dowden added in a recent
paper, noting a recent upsurge in international calls to end the
at sea means the opportunistic bandits are also branching out to
land-based kidnapping, including eyeing potential targets in
neighbouring Ethiopia, or aid workers in Somalia's anarchic capital
Mogadishu, Hansen said.
"The pirate groups have relocated to the hinterland - now they are kidnapping foreigners for ransom," said Abdi.
individuals may be an easier target than a merchant vessel bristling
with guns and protected by warships, but have still proved troublesome
targets for the bandits.
Reports suggest pirates have tightened
security after a US Special Forces raid last month rescued two aid
workers - an American and a Dane - and killed all nine kidnappers who
had held them hostage for three months.
Several Western hostages
seized on land are believed held by pirates, either kidnapped directly
or sold on later to the pirates by other armed gangs.
include a British tourist and two Spanish aid workers kidnapped in
neighbouring Kenya, as well as an American writer seized in central
Ending the problem cannot be done by a simple quick fix plan, however.
"We have to look for a comprehensive solution," warned Abdi.
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