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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

What to do about Somalia and its pirates?

U.S. Navy Admiral Robert Willard says Somalia needs governance to defeat piracy:
A top U.S. commander Wednesday said piracy in Somalia can only be defeated if the international community helps restore governance in the poor, lawless African country.

Adm. Robert Willard, chief of the Pacific Command, said navy patrols alone cannot stop the hijacking of ships if pirates' bases onshore are allowed to operate without interference. The international community is spending millions of dollars a day maintaining a flotilla of warships to protect key shipping lanes off East Africa.

"The organizers, the funders are the central problem ... but the international community has been unable to determine how to tackle the problem onshore," Willard told a regional forum in Malaysia.

"Clearly, one thing is to help Somalia recover from being the ungoverned state that it is," he said.

"Unless the international community goes to the root, and not the far end of the problem, it won't be solved."
Not so very much different are the thoughts of the top Chinese military commander, as reported here:
On a visit to the U.S. this week, China's top military commander Chen Bingde suggested that the international coalition patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the coast of Somalia ought to take decisive action against pirate dens on land. So far, the counter-piracy strategy has focused on the pirate "mother-ships," usually retrofitted trawlers that tow little skiffs out into the deep sea. Yet the pirate problem emanating from lawless Somalia cost the global economy over $8.3 billion in 2010. And China has a huge stake in securing its ever-increasing economic interests in the region.

Chen, the chief of the general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told reporters:

For counter-piracy campaigns to be effective, we should probably move beyond the ocean and crash their bases on the land... It is important that we target not only the operators, those on the small ships or crafts conducting the hijacking activities, but also the figureheads.
India, another potential major player in any activity that might be taken against the pirates, is backing off from its previously aggressive pursuit and arrests of Somali pirates, apparently responding to coercion by the pirates, as reported here:
The government has effected a policy shift in its anti-piracy operations, asking Navy not to arrest any more pirates, and also not to bring them to India's mainland. The government fears that its aggressive operations, especially the arrest of pirates and their incarceration in Mumbai, may have backfired. Somali pirates are retaliating against India's proactive stand by targeting Indian sailors, the security establishment believes. Presently, 43 Indian sailors are in the custody of pirates.

The situation is worrying for India, given the fact that over 10% of total seafarers working for shipping companies around the world are Indians. "We believe they are retaliating. Recently, while rest of their colleagues was released, seven Indians on a particular ship were taken to Somalia. We are still waiting to hear from them," a senior official said.
Another major shipping nation has not backed off in its treatment of Somali pirates it has captured. The Republic of Korea (South Korea) has sentenced a pirate leader to life imprisonment and other Somali pirates to multi- year sentences:
Aul Brallat, said to have fired at the commandos during an initial unsuccessful raid on January 18, was jailed for 15 years, while two other pirates were each sentenced to 13 years.
In the United States, several Somali pirates have received lengthy jail terms including life. It looks like, due to plea agreements, life sentences are pending for the Somali pirates involved in the capture of an American yacht that resulted in four U.S. citizen deaths, as reported here:
The guilty announcement are part of plea agreements that will allow them to avoid the death penalty, but face life in prison.
Spain has sentenced Somali pirates to lengthy jail terms as set out here:
A court in Spain has sentenced two Somali pirates to 439 years in prison each for their role in the 2009 hijacking of a Spanish fishing vessel.
A Dutch court has sentenced a pair of Somali pirates to 5 year prison terms.

Of course, there are Somali pirates imprisoned in the Seychelles, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen and other places.

However, since piracy is one of the few profitable ventures in Somalia, there is no shortage of new young men to venture to sea and to replace the imprisoned or dead.

The two military leaders have it right - the seat of piracy is on the land. But, as I have asked before, who wants to lead the way into Somalia?

UPDATE: South Africa and Mozambique have signed a Memorandum of Understanding covering anti-piracy activity (and Exclusive Economic Zone protection) it is reported here:
It emerged last month that the recently approved – but as yet unpublished – strategy includes plans to cover the country's entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with “some form of sensor, or combination of sensors that will produce the most optimal coverage”. Sisulu avered this in answer to a parliamentary question by Democratic Alliance MP SP Kopane. “It is obvious that such an integrated system will require the cooperation of many stakeholders and will benefit the RSA in order to ensure that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our maritime zones remain intact,” Sisulu said. “Such an integrated system forms part of the deliberations on a maritime security strategy for the RSA.”

The minister added that the military had determined that a full spectrum of electronic and optical sensors, deployed from a variety of platforms would be “the optimal solution for managing the surveillance of our maritime zones.” She did not elaborate, other than noting the length of coastline “measures 3924 kilometres and the EEZ extends, for practical reasons, 370 kilometres to seaward of the baselines that approximate this coastline. The EEZ thus covers an area of approximately 1 537 000 square kilometres of open sea.

“Approximately 29% of the coastline is covered by fixed land-based radars (radar horizon depends on the height of the antenna) with a radar horizon of approximately 25 kilometres. It is thus clear that use must be made of a variety of platforms (ships, surveillance aircraft, helicopters) with a variety of sensors (eg radar, Automatic Identification System (AIS), Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT), electro-optical, optical and others) in order to monitor the EEZ of the RSA,” the minister explained.
UPDATE2: In re-reading the above update, I think it needs a little explanation- the import of the RSA and Mozambique agreement is that, in theory, puts up a sort of "southern limit line" on further expansion of the Somali pirates into the sea lines of communication in the area covered by the agreement.


  1. The import of RSA and Mozambique is that they both need to bolster their Navies and Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability. Patrolling 1.5 million square kilometres of sea is not simple task. RSA has had internal criticism of its lack of support of the problem of piracy, but as their coal exports to India are affected, they have decided to be more involved but more for economic reasons that the security of the southern African waters they claim is a priority. One ship and a helicopter or two off Pemba is no more effective than the coalition patrols further north. Watching eargerly.

  2. Glen: You are spot on with your points.

  3. MandM9:37 AM

    ''...said piracy in Somalia can only be defeated if the international community helps restore governance in the poor, lawless African country.''
    This particular mantra has been trotted out by every Foreign Ministry for the last four years. Besides new regional court houses, jails and some small training teams the 'international community' has done next to nothing to the tackle the shore lawlessness problem. The TFG is hunkered down in Mogadishu under the protection of the AMISOM contingents – meanwhile AMISOM have no mandate or capability for heading north into Galmadug and Puntland to 'police' the pirate areas. It is most unlikely that any non-regional force will go into to Somalia in the near future - the ghost of Somalia past hangs heavy in the US and other regional operations will keep NATO tied up for some time.

    The South African Navy effort should really be applauded after some difficult times even getting the SA government to take an interest. But with three good frigates they will hard pressed to maintain any long term presence in the Mozambique Channel. However, it’s good to see the IMO taking some action at long last with their new Counter Piracy Implementation Unit headed up by someone who actually knows the region well and with naval knowledge in spades. Both these latest initiatives are aimed, rightly, at the sea and protection of seafarers – but nothing concrete from the UN or their Somalia related subcommittees on the shore situation further than urging the TFG to do better.

  4. Anonymous2:01 PM

    Given trends in yemen and other nations in the region, it seems likely that somilia will not be the only major pirate haven for the indian ocean.

    I just dont see stability in the region occuring anytime soon.

    Given that, far more needs to be done to allow merchant ships to take more aggressive measures against pirates without running into problems with ports or flag nations.