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Is This the End of Somali Piracy?


For the past twenty years the waters off of Somalia’s coasts were home to some of the first modern pirates. Piracy against ships never went away completely and is difficult to define in marginal instances like simple burglary from a ship in port.

Disputes over fishing resources were the initial cause of vessel interceptions and occasionally punitive scuttling. A failed and mostly absent Somali government could not protect some of the richest fishing areas in the world from foreign vessels. Eventually the fishermen took to the water to defend their working territory from encroaching fishing boats.

In the early 1990’s as ground operations in Somalia were taking place to eliminate terrorist factions who saw Somalia as a safe haven in East Africa. At the same time larger ships began fishing in disputed areas and the modern pirate was created out of necessity.

Pirate crews soon figured out how to board ships underway with hooks and ladders. Coincidentally, this is the same method used by privateers and pirates during the golden age of sail commerce. Theft was the goal early in the history of these incidents. Later, hostage taking for ransom was found to be much more profitable.

Accidental death from deprivation or outright killing was the undoing of the pirate operations beginning with a strong surge around 2008 when piracy rates climbed dramatically each year for several years.

Ransoms of ten and twelve million dollars US were paid for the release of oil tankers held in the Arabian Sea by pirates operating out of Somalia in 2010.

Not all Somali pirates are Somali nationality since organized crime often pulls likely candidates from a wide area when significant financial gains are possible.

Some have speculated that piracy has jihadi overtones but this is only documented in interviews with captive pirates. Somalia has strong religious faith and the inclusion of God in everyday language is misunderstood by some westerners who live in more secular societies.

The common phrase, Insha'Allah, meaning “if God wills it” is used extensively in both a formal way and in casual conversation. Something similar in western thought might be “if the weather cooperates”, or “if there is time”.

The lack of religious motivation among the pirates is important since faith is much more permanent than a stream of wealth gained from crimes against ships. The amount of piracy fluctuated with each escalation and response.

The use of armed guards through the IMO embarked security guidelines dramatically reduced piracy in the Arabian Sea including waters off Somalia.

Prosecution of captured pirates and an expanded cooperative effort of naval and land forces led to pirate strongholds on land being infiltrated or destroyed. Increasingly brutal treatment by both sides led to the S/V Quest tragedy and the immolation of a skiff full of captured pirates by a Russian response team.

Through enforcement and a change of government leadership in Somalia things have changed. In early 2013 on of the top pirate leaders, truly one of the founders of modern piracy, held a public press conference to announce his retirement and renounce piracy in the region.

Although the press conference was in the local language it was clear this is a man with regrets who wants to see his country free of the crime that plagues its development. The use of local language was important since this was not primarily meant for western audiences. Many in the crowd of men on folding chairs were visibly skeptical.

Afweyne is a powerful presence that would not be out of place in a corporate operation anywhere in the world. Make no mistake he is a killer, if not by proxy. He has shown himself to be interested in financial rewards, and now as that era seems to be ending in the region, he is seeking the rewards of legitimate offshoots of these prior activities.

Is it possible that your next anti-piracy seminar might be run by a Somali national and former pirate?

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