Why (They Say) Somali Piracy is Falling

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 12/07/2012 07:56:00 AM
 ...or so they say. Given my nationality, I have been particularly interested in this issue. Providing between one-fifth to one-fourth of all seafarers depending on your source, the Philippines has been particularly hard-hit by Somali piracy since its seafarers literally have a 1-in-5 to 1-in-4 chance of being on board a vessel hijacked in the Gulf of Aden. However, including even the BushBama years, all bad things must come to and end. Just as maritime piracy has been curbed in the traditional hotspot of the Malacca Straits due to littoral states engaging in more vigilant patrolling of these waters, so too does it seem that piracy has been reduced in the now-notorious Gulf of Aden. Instead of Southeast Asian nations doing the patrolling, however, it's been European ones under the command of EU-Navfor and its Operation Atalanta to keep piracy in check.

EU Navfor Rear Admiral Duncan Potts (seconded from the Royal Navy--history suggests they know a thing or two about piracy) gives a number of reasons for this decrease:
  • The deployment of armed private security guards on board ships who have been 100% successful in deterring or defeating attacks;
  • Better management practice by shipping companies, such as hardening their vessels or taking evasive action;
  • Pre-emptive action by combined navies in the region, helping to ensure that pirates do not get out of their anchorages;
  • A change in Somalia at national and local level, with Somalis far less tolerant of pirates.
Me? I am not entirely sure if this phenomenon is done and dusted. While the cost-benefit ratio of piracy has risen significantly as of late, long-term development of Somalia needs to occur to deter this line of livelihood going forward. In accomplish that, you need to accomplish a number of things that will be no small feat such as (1) establishing rule of law in the coastal regions especially and (2) creating viable sources of livelihood aside from fishing and piracy. Interestingly, Filipino seamen have been treated relatively well since they are viewed by the Somali pirates as victims of circumstance--poor people just like themselves as opposed to Europeans or others.

To be sure, Somali fishers-turned-pirates still complain that it was European overfishing in their waters that has made them lose their traditional livelihoods and turn to yo-ho-hoeing. I tried to investigate this evocative environmental notion sometime ago, but there is no data comparing fish stocks off the Somali coast over the years that could provide empirical evidence for such claims. (Please get in touch with me if you do!) So, what we are left with are counterarguments from those encouraging deterrence that other factors play a far larger role.

For instance, see this interview of Patricia OBrien, UN Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs ont he matter:
Q: Many fisherman impoverished by declining fish stocks turn to piracy. Will the Yeosu Project [see here], which aims to build the capacity of emerging countries to address such issues, contribute to combating piracy?

A: The initiative taken by the Republic of Korea is commendable, and constitutes an important part of the regional and international efforts that must be undertaken by States Parties to UNCLOS and to the 1995 Agreement relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks to promote the conservation of fish stocks, both within and beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ, a nation’s official territorial waters).

However, the root causes of piracy do not only lie in the mismanagement of fish stocks and the depletion of resources from seas and oceans. If the trends regarding piracy off the coast of Somalia are to provide any guidance, whereby pirates have expanded their areas of operation and acquired heavier artillery, allowing them to attack larger ships further out at sea, major shipping routes such as the Strait of Malacca should continue to be monitored closely.
And cue "Rhymin' and Stealin'" for old times sake...