Somali Pirates

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Let us analyse how geopolitical instability has become evident in the world. In this regard, i would like to talk about piracy.

Piracy is a relatively rare event but in some parts like the Horn of Africa, it has become a major problem with global implications.

Somalia is the epicenter of the problem. It is a country with 10 million people, mostly Sunni Muslims. it became independent as late as the 1960.

SOMALIA AS A FAILED STATE

  • Between 1969- 1990, Somalia was ruled by a dictator MOHD. SIAD BARRE. He eventually adopted Marxist precepts.
  • In 1977, war broke out with Ethiopia, after Barre annexed their Somali populated areas.
  • Cuban and Soviet support for Ethiopia tilted the balance and the Somali forces had to retreat. Barre now turned to the US as an ally.
  • When Barre’s regime collapsed in 1991, Somalia plunged into a chaotic internal conflict.

 

ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL PENURY

  • Political dislocation led to poverty.
  • More than 25% underweight children below 5 years
  • Subsistence agriculture ceased to provide even a minimal resource base.
  • More than 75% of the population was below the poverty line.
  • Unemployment rose above 50%.

 

ORIGINS OF PIRACY

  1. Weapons were readily available throughout Somalia: AKMs, RPG7s, AK47s, semi automatic pistols, rocket propelled grenades, etc.
  2. Fishermen became vigilantes:
  • Attempting to defend Somali waters from European and Asian ships which were dumping toxic waste and illegally harvesting fish.
  • This foreign threat to their livelihood exacerbated poverty.
  • Eventually, they discovered the lucrative benefits of piracy and of taking hostages.
  • Piracy began in 2005.

 

WHO ARE PIRATES?

Piracy became a way of life, a viable economic option for Somali mariners mostly young males. An average pirate makes about $30000 – 75000 per haul, with a possibility of bonuses.

They are regarded as heroes by some Somalis. They also require on- shore accomplices for securing arms, processing ransom payments and providing cover.

Lets see an example (Maersk Alabama) to understand this better.

  • APRIL 8, 2009: It was the first successful pirate attack on an American vessel in over 200 years.
  • It was the 6th vessel to be taken over by pirates that week.
  • After a series of skirmishes, Captain Richard Philips ended up being taken hostage in the lifeboat when the pirates were fleeing the ship.
  • After a 4 day standoff, US Navy Snipers killed the pirates.
  • This event was immortalised in the movie, Captain Philips, starring Tom Hanks.

 

IMPACT ON OTHER COUNTRIES (say, Egypt)

  • Shipping companies have chosen to sail around the southern tip of Africa instead of Suez Canal.
  • Significant drop in traffic through the Suez Canal, a major source of revenue for Egypt.

Much longer routes;  adds 2700 miles each way from Saudi Arabia to US.

 

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

  • Collective patrolling and security efforts.
  • UK, US, France, Japan and Germany are involved in these efforts. In the past, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, Korea, Turkey have also participated.
  • Many national governments send naval forces to supplement patrols.
  • Piracy attacks have declined dramatically over the past several years but ‘cost per attack’ is dramatically higher.

 

TURNING TOWARDS THE SHORE

“Ending piracy requires focus to shift away from perpetrators and towards the enablers.”

They currently rely on a network of on- shore accomplices secured by bribery or force, possible due to lack of infrastructure and law enforcement.

 

POLITICAL ACTION

  • Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmud has made an effort in 2013 to address various aspects of Somali piracy.
  • Granted amnesty to pirates willing to turn away from practise.
  • Utilised traditional clan avenues and local leaders to negotiate an end to piracy.
  • Need to bolster economy, infrastructure, information, etc.

 

REASON FOR HOPE

  • In 2013, UN Development Coordinator for Somalia announced that the number of people under duress had halved in the previous year.
  • Innovative methods of aid distribution, favourable rainy seasons and improved political stability give Somalis reasons to hope for a better future.

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Though Somalia’s condition is improving but its increasing in other parts of the world. Since the summer of 2013, it has become a bigger problem in the Gulf of Guinea. Much of this takes place from the coast of Nigeria which is Africa’s most populous country with a population of 175 million. Poverty and the ethnic conflict remains another problem.

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