International Waters

Capt. Max Hardberger Is the end near for Somali piracy?

February 21, 2013

As the spring monsoons approach, the Somali pirate season is coming to a close. The big news is the failure of the pirates to complete a single successful hijacking in the Indian Ocean this year.

This is an encouraging sign that this scourge may finally have run its course. The success of anti-piracy efforts is due to a number of causes, including the almost-universal deployment of armed guards onboard commercial vessels in these waters and the heavy NATO warship presence off the Somali shores. But neither one of these efforts addresses the root cause of Somali piracy.

The recent outbreak of piracy on the Somali coast began with the 1991-1992 civil war and the subsequent disintegration of the Somali government. The kind of piracy that aims to seize ships and crews for ransom requires safe havens for hijacked vessels while ransoms are negotiated and paid. No legitimate government will allow such pirate lairs. There are a number of corrupt governments around the world that will seize ships on “nationalistic” pretexts — an example is the Venezuelan government’s theft of an entire fleet of Tidewater oilfield service vessels several years ago — but even Venezuela dares not offer private actors (i.e., pirates) a safe haven for hijacked vessels.

Recent developments in Somalia offer hope for an elimination of such havens. A permanent federal government that was recently recognized by the U.S has replaced the transitional federal government. Also, a U.S. embassy in Somalia will soon open. Among other encouraging signs of stability in Somalia are the current construction boom going on in the capital, Mogadishu, and a 100 percent increase in the value of the Somali shilling against the U.S. dollar.

However, the semi-autonomous federal states of Galmudug and Puntland in the central and northern areas of the country still lack the funds to fight piracy. Galmudug has no coast guard or patrol boats and lacks a court and prison system to try and hold piracy suspects. More disturbing is that two ships with over 50 hostages onboard — reportedly including Michael Scott Moore, a U.S. surf journalist from California — are still at anchor off a stretch of the Galmudug coast under the control of an Al Qaeda-linked insurgent group. So until Galmudug can get the help it needs to regain control of its territory, it has little hope of putting a permanent end to the hijacking of vessels for ransom along its shores.

But an effective answer to Somali piracy is surprisingly simple: The international community must provide the funds and technical expertise necessary to rebuild Somalia’s shattered infrastructure. Galmudug’s dynamic new president, Abdi Awale Qeybdiid, has brought together expatriate Somalis to pay for a prison that’s under construction near the Galmudug capital of South Galcayo, and schools are now being built throughout Galmudug. As for anti-piracy efforts within Somalia, Winston Churchill once said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”


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