Fewer attacks by Somali pirates, but their net widens
There were fewer attacks by Somali pirates in the first quarter of this year than during the same time last year, but their reach is extending far beyond the Gulf of Aden.
Johannesburg, South Africa
There have been fewer attacks by Somali pirates during the first quarter of this year than during the same time period last year, according to a report issued Wednesday by the London-based International Maritime Bureau.Skip to next paragraph
Thirty-five of the 67 reported piracy incidents worldwide were conducted by Somali pirates, according to the report. The impressive drop from the 102 attacks reported during the first quarter of last year is due in large part to the efforts of the multinational naval force patrolling the Gulf of Aden.
That's the good news.
The bad news?
The pirates' reach is extending far beyond the waters of the Gulf of Aden, as European and American naval patrols force Somali pirates to venture further afield for ships to hijack.
Consider this past week, where Somali pirates have gone on a hijacking spree, capturing three Thai ships far out in the Indian Ocean and a Liberian-owned cargo ship off the coast of Oman. The capture of the Thai ships set a new record, at 1,200 nautical miles from the Somali coast.
This week’s attacks underline a weakness in the increased militarization of the seas, showing that naval patrols alone won’t stop piracy.
“Their territory is growing, and as the naval patrols lock down the Gulf of Aden, [the pirates] are going farther out into the Indian Ocean,” says Roger Middleton, an expert on Somali piracy with Chatham House in London. “The thing is, it’s not as easy to patrol as large an area as the Indian Ocean. The Gulf of Aden concentrates shipping, but there are numerous trading routes across the Indian Ocean. You’re looking at trading routes to Australia and to southern Africa, as well as of course shipping between the Persian Gulf and India. There’s a lot of ships out there to chase.”
The economic impact of Somali piracy – estimated to be $400 million a year in additional insurance costs alone – should be reason enough for Somalia’s ongoing political crisis to become a top priority for the international community, and especially for Europe, which conducts 80 percent of its maritime trade through the Gulf of Aden.
Experts say that the solution to Somali piracy is not in European naval patrols, nor in armed security patrols on commercial ships, but in helping Somalis to create their first stable and credible government in 20 years. Lacking a government that can enforce the rule of law in Somali cities and ports, Somali pirates will continue to operate with impunity.