Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scope and Scale of Maritime Piracy: Somalia



Even as early as the Roman era, maritime piracy has demanded the attention of states and posed a serious threat to commerce, travel and security across the globe. In 2011, 439 reported pirate attacks around the world cost an estimated $7-12 billion[1]. Emerging trends of similarly astronomical numbers have captured the attention of world leaders in recent years, leading to a resurgence of concern regarding this ancient criminal act.
 Until the late 2000’s piracy had flown under the public radar  but nonetheless  persisted at small but steady rates in the seas of Southeast Asia prior to the development of reliable records on pirate activity.  By the 1980s the rising threat of piracy had warranted enough consideration to spark implementation of anti-piracy policies, notably the creation of the International Maritime Bureau and the UN Law of the Sea Convention.[2] These strategies were initially deemed successful in steadily reducing the total number of pirate attacks reported annually. However the dramas of modern piracy returned to prominence in 2007 when attacks around Africa surpassed those in Asian waters for the first time on record. This distinct leap was due primarily to the efforts of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, where through 2009 attacks accounted for 46% of the 322 events reported globally[3]. This record year was indicative of foundational shifts in maritime piracy resulting in fewer attacks worldwide, but a drastic surge in activity emanating from Somalia with grim economic consequences.
            While more than 20,000 ships containing some 12% of the worlds transported petroleum pass through the Gulf of Aden annually, the general breakdown of rule of law and fragility of parts of the Somali state make these waters a haven for maritime pirates . In 2007, a particularly turbulent regime shift further exacerbated Somalia’s failing stability by ousting the Islamic Courts Union in favor of the Transitional Federal Government. This threw the country into chaos and created an environment conducive to pirate activity by igniting civil unrest as well as by replacing the heavy-handed treatment of piracy by the ICU with an ineffective new government. To further enrich the prospects of sea-borne thieves, a barbaric civil war and the inability of the TFG to manage a mounting list of crises led to a massive influx of international aid in 2008. Some 95% of international aid supplies to Somalia is shipped by sea.  These supplies and an estimated 3.2 million Somalis, approximately 43% of the population, were dependent on food aid in the latter part of2008.
            The direct economic costs of Somali piracy, while difficult to assess reliably, affect both their targets and hosts in a multitude of ways. Most noticeably, the average costs of recovering hostages of Somali pirates skyrocketed from $150,000 in 2005 to $4.97 million in 2010. This trend imitated the rise in the complexity and audacity of pirate organizations as they pursued bigger vessels farther from their home shores. Other major contributors to the rising cost of maritime piracy include; loss of cargo, rising insurance rates for transport vessels, the costs of heightening naval and police presence, and the costs of re-routing ships to avoid dangerous waters. Piracy greatly impedes the flow of goods by sea, which constitutes more than 80% of world trade, and aggravates preexisting conditions of instability in a host nation. Foreign trade and investment are significantly deterred by pirate activity and the hijacking of humanitarian vessels makes foreign aid hesitant in returning. In sum these direct costs are estimated to be more than $10 billion annually and represent a significant threat to interstate trade and transport as well as domestic stability.
            In two decades since its international resurgence in the 1990’s, the scale of maritime piracy has shrunk globally, while its resurgence in Eastern Africa has caused it to realize greater destructive influence. Along Somalia’s coasts, the relatively few pirate gangs that existed prior to the new millennium accounted for only 5% of the total global incidents in 2000. By 2009, the waters were home to a multitude of gangs whose global share exceeded 50%.[4] The expansion of the territory Somali pirates prey upon has already created consequences for neighboring states like Kenya through a marked reduction in foreign investment and tourism in the entire region.   
                       
               
               
               
               




[1] al., A. B. e. (2010, December 2010). "The Economic Costs of Maritime Piracy." from http://oneearthfuture.org/images/imagefiles/Cost%20of%20Piracy%20Final%20Report.pdf.
               
[2] Moki, J. N. A. a. S. (2009). "Africa: The Piracy Hot Spot and Its Implications for Global Security." Mediterranean Quarterly 20(3): 95-121.
                I found this article useful in contextualizing the phenomena of African piracy in both history and current debates.  
[3] Chalk, P. (2010). "Piracy off the Horn of Africa: Scope, Dimensions, Causes and Responses." Brown Journal of World Affairs 16(2): 89-108.
               
[4] Section, S. a. T. A. (2010). The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment. Vienna, United Nations office on Drugs and Crime: 193-200.
                This report from the UN was an excellent start to my research by presenting me with both statistical data and concise explanations of many key themes surrounding piracy. 


17 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Given the level of poverty, lack of infrastructure, and constant famines that plague Somalia, how the government go about reclaiming control over their coastal area?

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    1. The best way to combat piracy in Somalia, from the government's position, would be to address the underlying factors that created and continue to drive the industry. Ending the violence and instability of a decades long civil conflict would obviously go far in equipping the government to combat piracy on their shores. A unified Somali government could foster international aid and employ its power to create economic opportunity for its citizens and stem the tide of small arms flowing into the region, attacking both the motive and means behind much of the pirate trade in Somalia.
      As seen in the significant decline in pirate attacks in 2006, the threat and capacity to enforce heavy-handed laws can also be an effective tool in combating piracy. The ICU's employment of a policy of chopping off the hands of captured pirates, while short-lived,overcame the incentives to commit maritime theft and effectively reversed the explosion of piracy after 2005. I believe these results could be replicated by a government with the presence and ability to enforce such laws, however these policies should be dealt out with caution, particularly for governments with questionable accountability or regard for human rights.

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  3. Do you believe as the hostage taking pirate model becomes less lucrative will we see a global increase in piracy along the Nigerian bunkering and looting model in other parts of the world as fish stocks decline and impoverish costal dwellers shift to a new means of income?

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    1. Jeff,
      Trends in the average amount of ransom paid to pirates indicate that the hostage taking model has not become less lucrative in recent years, just more dangerous. In 2005, ransoms averaged around $150,000. By 2009, the average ransom was around $3.4 million. In 2010, ransoms are predicted to average around $5.4 million. Admittedly, recent statistics indicate a significant decline in the global rates of piracy, as well as in many traditional pirate hotspots, but we should be careful of celebrating this victory too soon. As the Murphy article from class argues, there are many variables at play when it comes to the spread of piracy, and many of these have not been adequately dealt with by recent action. Piracy is symptomatic of widespread poverty, civil conflict, geographic location and a multitude of factors that continue to disrupt regions that have historically witnessed large amounts of piracy. While the hardening of target vessels and a greater naval police presence in areas of concern have had a beneficial effect in stemming the spread of maritime piracy, many of its domestic roots have worsened in several hotspots leaving the system primed for a dramatic revival of pirate activity if action is not taken.
      However the potential resurgence of the hostage taking model of piracy does not preclude an increase in the Nigerian bunker and loot model in the near future. It’s widely noted that the origins of modern Somali piracy were impoverished fishermen bonding together and arming to protect themselves from the multitude of rival warlords vying for control of the country. They sought a steady flow of income and become desperate enough to target passing vessels and extorting a toll. The escalation of piracy in Somalia is a model that could be replicated in any area located at global maritime “choke point”, or vulnerable areas through which the majority of transport must pass, and that sees widespread poverty and weak rule of law. The Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal are two of the most prominent choke points on the seas today, through each of which passes trillions in crude oil, interstate trade and travel. While these regions had been functionally controlled by the United States since World War Two, Geopolitical and domestic changes have destabilized this control and threaten the current maritime order. The lack of definitive U.S. response to piracy has opened the door to a potential explosion of global piracy, particularly around these choke points which have proven to be easily the most profitable with the capturing of large oil tankers.

      For more on choke points, Al Jazeera produced a helpful film found at: http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2012/12/2012124114036244389.html

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  4. What about piracy on rivers such as the Amazon or the Menkong river system in south east asia is that a growing problem and since the governance of those rivers is disputed or in ungovernable areas how can nations cooperate to bring peace to theses waters?

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    1. Jeff,
      From what I could find, while river piracy is a relatively unaddressed phenomenon it is nothing new to the rivers of China. The Yangtze River has historically been a dangerous pirate hunting ground, prompting the U.S. to deploy the Yangtze Patrol, which was directed to protect United States interests on the river from 1854 to 1941. More recently, rising attacks on both the Menkong and Amazon rivers have shown new light on the problem of river piracy. In 2011, an attack dubbed the Mekong River Massacre which killed 13 Chinese prompted the governments of China, Laos, Burma and Thailand to begin joint patrols and greater intelligence sharing which they report have decreased pirate activity significantly.
      On the other hand, the threat of piracy on the Amazon has only very recently emerged as a serious threat in South America and has only been acted on unilaterally by Brazil. This immense river represents a single immense choke point for any trade or transportation traveling through South America on its way to the booming markets of Brazil. This, along with an almost infinite opportunity for piracy due to the remoteness of much of its banks and a lack of effective policing make the Amazon a tempting target for the hostage taking model of piracy seen around the Horn of Africa. Brazil has initiated unilateral action to contain the threat of priacy on the Amazon in the aftermath of a series of attacks in 2011 and the highly visible killing of Sir Peter Blake by Brazilian river pirates in 2001. The long-term effectiveness of Brazil’s independent dedication to eradicating piracy on the Amazon have yet to be seen, but it seems highly unlikely that progress will be made without the cooperation of other Amazon nations. At 4000 miles long, The Amazon is the second longest river in the world and crosses the borders of Guyana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Without a cumulative and cooperative effort from all of these governments, the mobility of river pirates is likely to allow their continued survival and growth.

      Some articles related to Amazon and Menkong river pirates:
      1)http://blogs.voanews.com/breaking-news/2012/03/13/china-joint-efforts-with-neighbors-check-mekong-river-pirates/

      2)http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/17/brazil-amazon-pirates

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  5. You don't seem to have included the human security costs of piracy in your post. After reading the article by Murphy, do you think such costs should be counted in relation to the scope and scale of Somali piracy?

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  7. Jenny Sue,
    The human security costs of piracy, while often briefly considered in most of my research, are remarkably difficult to address adequately due to both a lack of reliable data as well as the complex relationships between piracy and a plethora of other societal ailments. Predominantly, what information does exist begins with the serious but obvious costs of human life that piracy entails and refers mostly to the numbers of hostages and crew taken and killed by pirates, as well as the conditions in which these people live while incarcerated. On an individual level the record 35 hostages that were killed in 2011 were a terrible affront to human security and dignity, and the increasingly violent treatment of even the hostages who lived is equally, if not more, concerning. However, regardless of the extreme per capita assault rates reported in Murphy’s article, 35 deaths out of a total of 3,863 assaulted by Somali pirates in 2011 makes for a fatality rate of only .9%. This leads me to believe that the true human security costs, much like the national security costs discussed by Murphy, are of a more esoteric nature. The effects of piracy on poverty have been debated in various papers, but for the most part it has proven nearly impossible to separate contribution piracy alone on poverty, and more recent reports suggest that tourism, shipping and even real-estate in the Horn of Africa have boomed in spite of piracy. The main human security costs I could definitely speak to is the difficulty faced by the World Food Program in getting aid to Somalia after pirate attacks on WFP ships increased in 2007-8. If anyone is interested in doing some of their own investigation into the human security costs, my resources included

    http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/sites/default/files/hcop_2011_2_pgr.pdf

    http://oceansbeyondpiracy.org/sites/default/files/hcop_2011_version1_4_2.pdf

    http://somaliareport.com/index.php/post/2867/Can_We_Ever_Assess_the_True_Cost_of_Piracy_

    http://www.iss.co.za/uploads/18NO3NINCIC.PDF

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  8. I read an opinion online stating that reports about the effects piracy has had on the shipping sector are often exaggerated and that the shipping industry has, in fact, managed to grow even in times of high risks of piracy attacks and threats. The author argued that the National Cargo Security Council estimated a much higher cost of theft from ports in 2003 when compared to the global cost of piracy. Such a view criticizes Murphy’s argument regarding the importance of the issue of piracy and the necessity to attend to it. I just wanted to hear your comments on such a view and whether or not you came across any facts similar to those the author proposed? Thanks!

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    1. Meryam,

      I don't think these findings undermine Murphy's argument in the least. He admits that the truly economic costs of Somali piracy are minuscule in comparison to the net worth of maritime trade, and I have also read reports that shipping has grown steadily in recent years. Murphy is far more concerned with the potential threats posed by evolving forms of piracy such as terrorist related pirate activity or the long-term consequences of piracy on human security. Even more, Murphy stressed the more symbolic threats of piracy which highlights the United States' failure to fulfill its duty as maritime hegemony, as well as the consequences of the current trend of privatization of maritime security.

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  9. So far piracy has taken place in international waters but suppose it cropped up in a disputed zone like the south China sea where neighboring countries warships often glare at each other. Do you believe the UN or Nato needs a permeant global maritime security force to provide impartial law enforcement for the worlds oceans?

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    1. Jeff,
      While current reports actually state that piracy in South-East Asia has shifted significantly from the Straits of Malacca into the South China Sea (SCS), the pirates in this area have not as of yet presented a threat sufficient to warrant international concern. Even if banditry in these contested waters was to reach the proportions seen in Somalia or Nigeria, the costs of raising and maintaining a permanent international maritime security force would far outweigh the potential economic damage pirates have been capable of thus far. A far more likely solution to this issue would be the formation of a cooperative force of the nations most effected, particularly those with a stake in the contested waters. Combined patrols consisting of naval security officers from each state, along with improved information sharing, have been shown to be highly effective in combating piracy in other areas and could serve as a platform for future cooperation.

      I found this article particularly useful: http://www.eurasiareview.com/28032011-piracy-in-the-south-china-sea-lessons-from-gulf-of-aden-analysis/

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  10. You mentioned that until the 2000s, piracy was under the public radar. Was there anything in particular that made piracy spike in the following years? Were there different reasons for different regions?

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  11. Foreign aid is a frequent target of Somali pirates. Have you noticed any change in the amount of aid going to Somalia within the past 10 years that reflects the piracy threat? Has the U.S. in particular scaled back it's involvement out of fear the boats might get hijacked?

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    1. From what I could find, there is a consensus that humanitarian aid, particularly WFP famine relief, has become slower and more costly thanks largely to increased pirate attacks on aid ships. As of 2005, the WFP had diverted over 500 metric tons of food aid over-land through Kenya due to fears of pirate attacks, resulting in higher costs and fewer resources available for supplies. Although USAID decreased aid to Somalia from $260mil to $80mil between 2008 and 2011, I have yet to find any direct connection between a cut in U.S. aid to Somalia and piracy.

      Some articles on the topic:
      http://piracy-law.com/2012/06/05/usaid-may-increase-development-assistance-to-somalia/
      http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/03/business/mpa-piracy
      http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/africa/fear-of-somalia-pirates-affects-delivery-of-aid-to-famine-victims

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