Global CQ Researcher: Attacking Piracy

Can the growing global threat be stopped?
By Alan Greenblatt, August 2009

The excerpt below was taken from the "Current Situation" section of the August 2009 CQ Global Researcher on "Attacking Piracy"


In the first six months of 2009, Somali pirates have been responsible for more than 60 percent of the world's attacks, 86 percent of the world's maritime hostage-takings and virtually all of the growth in piracy. [Footnote 57]

The pirate gangs come alongside trawlers and merchant ships in fast-moving skiffs and scamper on board using ladders or grappling hooks. They are typically armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s. “All you need is three guys and a little boat, and the next day you're millionaires,” said Adullahi Omar Qawden, a former captain in Somalia's long-defunct navy. [Footnote 58]

Several pirate gangs operate in Somalia, undoubtedly with connections to politicians and organized criminal gangs. “Believe me, a lot of our money has gone straight into the government's pockets,” Farah Ismail Eid, a captured pirate, told The New York Times.

He said his team typically gave 20 percent to their bosses and 30 percent to government officials, allocating 20 percent for future missions and keeping 30 percent for themselves. [Footnote 59] Abdi Waheed Johar, director general of Puntland's fisheries and ports ministry, acknowledges that some government officials are working with the pirates.

When Somali pirates attacked the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and ammunition to Mombasa last September, “they knew the number of crew on board and even some names,” says Somali journalist Arman. “These are illiterate people — they're being given information.”

“Without any form of domestic law and order within Somalia, organized militia groups and pirate gangs have managed to fill this vacuum,” says Sekulich, the Canadian journalist and author. “They have it all — command-and-control structures, logistics people, armories, financiers.”

In a country with an average annual income of $600, pirates now drive the biggest cars, run many businesses and throw the best parties, sometimes with foreign bands brought in for the occasion. “Entire clans and coastal villages now survive off piracy,” The New York Times reported in December, “with women baking bread for pirates, men and boys guarding hostages and others serving as scouts, gunmen, mechanics, accountants and skiff builders.” [Footnote 60]

Pirates are also the best customers for retailers. “They pay $20 for a $5 bottle of perfume,” Leyla Ahmen, a shopkeeper in Xarardheere, a coastal Somali pirate hangout, told the Times.

The huge amounts of cash flooding northeastern Somalia have created serious inflation in the region and corrupts the morals of youths and women in the conservative Muslim society, says Somali presidential chief of staff Abdulkareem Jama. “Young men started paying $100 for a cup of tea and telling the waiter to ‘Keep the change,’” he explained. And some women have left their husbands for rich, young pirates. “These ill-gotten fast riches … are as damaging to the very fabric of the society onshore as it is damaging to international trade offshore.”

While the pirates may move freely on land, their movements at sea are now being curtailed. The massive new international armada has captured dozens of pirates and deterred attacks on vessels carrying food aid. Stephen Mull, U.S. acting assistant secretary of State for political and military affairs, says nearly three times as many pirates were interdicted in the first four months of the year as in all of 2008. Under the new international agreements, many of the prisoners are now being sent to Kenya and other area countries for trial.

But Burnett, author of Dangerous Waters, attributes the southwest monsoon season — which makes the water too rough for small boats — to a temporary reduction in piracy attacks this summer. The pirates will be back in force by October, he predicts.

Meanwhile, the United States recently sent 40 tons of weapons and ammunition to shore up Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) against the Islamist al-Shabaab rebels who control much of southern Somalia. And the European Union is considering helping to train Somali police and create courts and other legal infrastructures. [Footnote 61]

“We are not being utilized as much as we could be,” Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told the Los Angeles Times in April. “We need to fight pirates on land. We have information about how they function and who they are. The long-term objective should be to build institutions that will deal with pirates from inside the country.” [Footnote 62]

“The solution is easy if the will-power is there,” says Jama. “If a team of 500 Somali soldiers are given special advanced training in, say, Djibouti or Uganda for three months and are given swift boats equipped with good firepower, GPS tracking and 10 helicopters, piracy can be eliminated or severely curtailed in 6 months.

“Only Somalis can deny pirates the land to use their ill-gotten loot,” he continues. “The international community would be wise to try this solution with little to lose and much to gain. Insurance companies in the UK have offered to help fund a local solution. Other governments would be wise to join.”

However, at the moment Sheikh Ahmed's fledgling government is fighting for its survival against foreign-funded extremists, Jama acknowledged.

The administration of President Sheikh Ahmed is the 16th government that has tried to control the country since the fall of Barre in 1991. And while the moderate cleric is regarded by many as one of the few men whose clan base and political skills might bring peace to the war-ravaged country, many foreign observers are skeptical about the TFG's chances of restoring law and order. Currently, the TFG only controls part of Mogadishu, the capital, and fighting breaks out there frequently.

Moreover, suggests terrorism lecturer Lehr of the University of St. Andrews, the summer lull in piracy due to the monsoon season has stalled momentum toward devising a regional anti-piracy strategy, which had garnered particular interest in nearby countries such as Oman and Saudi Arabia.

A better idea, Lehr says, would be to aid stable provincial governments in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northeastern Somalia — home to much of the piracy problem — and neighboring Somaliland, a stable, democratically run state in northwestern Somalia that declared its independence in 1991. Although neither “republic” has received international recognition, they may be more capable of imposing law and order than the fragile central government in Mogadishu.

Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole may have been complicit in piracy at one time, says piracy author Murphy, of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, but he now wants it stopped because the lawlessness and corruption could undermine his regime and make it more vulnerable to insurgencies such as al-Shabaab.

“The piracy is happening in Puntland, not Mogadishu,” Murphy says. “We can't address it in Mogadishu.” Puntland has already begun imposing 15- to 30-year prison sentences for piracy.

Supporting provincial efforts, Lehr says, “would be a much better option in the long run” and “would take the thunder out” of the Islamist movements, which denounce the presence of foreign navies offshore as Western militarism, he says.

“It would be cheaper and would regionalize the issue,” he continues. “They should have a bigger interest in securing their own waters than we have.”

[57] “ICC-IMB Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships Report — Second Quarter 2009,” op. cit., p. 11.

[58] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Somali's Pirates Flourish in a Lawless Nation,” The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2008, p. A1,

[59] Ibid.
59. Ibid.

[60] Jeffrey Gettleman, “Pirates in Skiffs Still Outmaneuvering Warships Off Somalia,” The New York Times, Dec. 16, 2008, p. A6,

[61] Mary Beth Sheridan, “U.S. Has Sent 40 Tons of Munitions to Aid Somali Government,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2009, p. A5,

[62] Edmund Sanders, “Let Us Handle Pirates, Somalis Say,” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2009, p. A22,

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