Tag Archives: Somalia pirates

How to Destroy the Pirates: free trade

Gulf of Aden map. Image from wikipedia

Ships navigating the lawless seas of the Gulf of Aden must keep a constant lookout for Somali pirates. The roots of Somalia’s maritime banditry lie in its desperately poor coastal villages, where the choice between fishing and piracy is an easy one for many.

Anja Shortland and Federico Varese mapped the locations of hijacked ships between 2005 and 2012. They found that hijacked vessels were always anchored far away from regional trading routes, and that big ports were not prone to piracy. There is a reason for that. Somali clans control local trade by issuing licences and charging informal taxes. The researchers reckon that communities which can tax imports and exports refuse to protect pirates because trade is a safer and more lucrative source of revenue than pirate earnings. Only clans that have no other income offer the pirates protection, in return for a share of their loot…..A… solution [to piracy] would be to build new roads and ports, which would allow remote areas to start trading. With alternative sources of income, fewer communities would be willing to harbour pirates….

A former president of Puntland repeatedly requested a road be built to Eyl, a rough-and-ready coastal town, as a quid pro quo for giving up piracy. His request was turned down, and piracy continued. Time for donors to rethink where they spend their pieces of eight.

Crime in Somalia: Pirates v economist, Economist, July 12, 2014, at 42

Not Failed Just Paralyzed: Somalia

Port Mogadishu. Image from wikipedia

Western powers are in early talks on writing off Somalia’s debt, a big shift for a country that was long branded a failed state and has with help scored successes against al Qaeda-linked rebels and piracy.  Just two years ago, Islamist militants and African peacekeepers fought daily street battles in Mogadishu.

Now the city is rid of insurgents, though still vulnerable to attack, and the government’s focus is on bolstering security, rooting out corruption and imposing the rule of law.  Foreign diplomats point to a determination to re-enter the international fold under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, elected last year in the country’s first vote for decades.

This is welcome progress for regional states whose economies have been rattled by their neighbor’s instability and for Western capitals which long worried Somalia provides a base for militant Islam to flourish unchecked.

Mohamud had made it clear Somalia should not be seen as a basket case and wants to change donors’ attitudes, envoys said.  Discussion about debts suggest that change is happening. Somalia’s arrears stood at around $2.2 billion in 2010, World Bank data showed, peanuts in international terms but daunting when domestic revenues are forecast at $54 million in 2013….

Washington, London and Brussels are among those which have formally recognized the government for the first time since civil war erupted in 1991….

Security worries persist. Britain warned this week of imminent attacks in Mogadishu and al Shabaab militants have claimed several suicide bombings in past months, more than two years after they were driven out of the capital.  Their fighters still control swathes of the countryside, but an African Union force has forced them out of most cities and the Islamist group is now at its weakest ebb in the six years since it emerged amid anarchy as a fighting force.

The 17,600-strong African force includes troops from Uganda, Burundi and Kenya. Nairobi is worried by a surge in bombings, kidnappings and grenade attacks on its soil that it blames on the Somali militants and their sympathizers.

But… [i]n a country divided along clan faultlines, the government’s relationship with the regions is delicate and often uneasy under a fledgling federal system.

Strips of Somalia’s coast remain infested with pirates, even if they stage fewer successful attacks now due to the greater use of armed guards, increasingly aggressive naval action and slight improvements in law and order onshore.”The other parts of the country are dark,” said Hashi. “Mogadishu, which is the heart of Somalia, has recovered but the other regions, the limbs, are still paralyzed.”

A political newcomer, Mohamud’s election was hailed by many as a vote for change, but seven months on some grumble.  “He promised to improve security but it has not yet happened,” said shopkeeper Halima Bile from Baidoa, which relies on foreign rather than local forces for protection from the rebels. “I don’t know when Somalia will become a real country.”….

Somalia strives to shake off “failed state” tag

The Wild West of the Oceans; pirates, private security firms and human rights

Private security teams patrol the decks of around 40% of large vessels in the “high-risk area” that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Seychelles in the south and the Maldives in the east. When pirates attack, these armed guards respond with flares or warning shots. This usually scares off assailants (or sends them in search of easier prey). If it fails, they fire at an attacking boat’s engine, before finally turning their sights on the pirates. No ship carrying armed guards has so far been hijacked.

Most of the companies providing these guards are British, typically started by entrepreneurial former special-forces types. A four-man team can charge $45,000 for safe passage through the high-risk area. The cost to shipowners is partly offset by savings on insurance.

The idea may seem simple but its legal framework is not. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea a ship’s crew, including guards, must abide by the home laws of a vessel’s flag state. But these vessels ply international waters, meaning that regulation is scant. An array of standards created since 2009 suggests good practice for private security teams, but none is legally binding.

Spurred on by the International Maritime Organization (which will debate the issue at a meeting next month), governments are now trying to write rules for armed guards at sea, such as how they buy and store the lethal tools of their trade. Britain wants a voluntary set of rules in place by the end of 2012, detailing the acceptable use of deadly force and systems for company auditing and accountability. It may suggest and define a “proportional” response to pirate attacks, along with approved weapon types and standards of training. Other countries are making moves too. American law now allows for the self defence of US-flagged ships within tight rules of engagement. India also allows armed guards; Greece is considering a similar step. The Japanese government is pondering a change to its strict laws, which prohibit civilian armed guards on ships.

The United Arab Emirates will this year start allowing armed international teams into its ports. At present most teams use Sri Lanka, Oman or Djibouti for weapons storage between jobs. They run the risk of prosecution if they carry arms in the territorial waters of Yemen and other states. John Bennett, of the Florida-based Maritime Protective Services says some firms play safe by throwing their guns overboard before heading home.

Pressure for new rules has come in part from human-rights organisations. Unknown numbers of Somali pirates have been killed at sea since 2005 as a result of clashes with naval and private protection forces. In at least one incident, security guards killed Somali fishermen, mistaking them for pirates. Such incidents evoke bad memories. The last thing that anyone wants, says Steven Jones, director of the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI), is a “Blackwater of the sea” (Blackwater, now renamed Academi, is a private security firm which was sued in Iraq after the shooting of 17 civilians. It denies any wrongdoing.)

The new British rules may help to shape those adopted by other countries in future. They emphasise transparency, with the aim of differentiating respectable companies from domestic or international “mavericks”. But complying with them will be voluntary and is likely to involve extra costs. Firms may simply move to territories with less demanding regimes. That could create two tiers in the security industry: one that is respectable and regulated, and one that lives by improvisation, not by the law. A bit like the pirates.

Piracy and private security:Laws and guns, Economist, Apr. 14,2012, at 69