John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Fighting Somalia Piracy Onshore and Off

by John Campbell
February 28, 2011


Members of a visit, board, search and seizure team made up of U.S. Navy sailors and Coast Guard guardsmen from the guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg and U.S. Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement Team South, approach a suspected pirate mothership in the Gulf of Aden, May 13, 2009. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post from Michael Baker, the U.S. defense and naval attaché (designate) to Madagascar, and a former CFR fellow. The views expressed are his own.

The tragic deaths of Jean and Scott Adams, Phyllis Macay, and Robert Riggle at the hands of Somali pirates are sure to spark more public outrage against pirates and hand wringing about the efficacy of naval task forces fighting piracy off Somalia. But ending Somali piracy is not a purely naval operation. It involves a host of efforts ashore: international law enforcement, criminal investigation, judicial procedures, anticorruption actions, and economic development.

Somali piracy has evolved over the years from a mom-and-pop style endeavor to an international criminal organization. The real pirates are fat-cat ringleaders coordinating operations out of Nairobi and other major cities in East Africa or the Middle East. They use “intelligence agents” operating from local ports to pass information on targets and provide “mother ships” for launching operations.

Governmental complicity and/or apathy is the main reason Puntland has become a center for recruiting the pirates who actually go to sea, whereas neighboring Somaliland produces few, if any, pirates thanks to strong governance.

While Somali pirates currently hold more than 30 ships and more than 700 hostages, international navies have nearly eliminated piracy in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden–restricted bodies of water. The pirates have been driven to the greater Indian Ocean, making it more difficult and expensive for them to operate but simultaneously making it more difficult for naval forces to effectively patrol this vast body of water.

If we are serious about ending Somali piracy, we have to show mettle for rounding up the ringleaders, fighting corruption in Puntland, and working on development initiatives to establish legitimate economies in Somalia–all while also conducting cooperative maritime patrols near the Horn of Africa.

For more on African maritime issues please see: Smarter Measures, Pirates for Commerce, Building Partnerships to Defeat Piracy, & Toward an African Maritime Economy.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Ducaale II

    The recognition of Somaliland Republic is the only method to be used to stop pirate activities in the horn. Somaliland has goverment, law and order and is against piracy.

    So, if the story is true to eleminate piracy then why not the Americans face the truth of that and come to the reallity. Even the base of Somali problems is the unrecgnition of Somaliland republic as state.

  • Posted by Ahmed Egal

    Firstly, I wish to express my condolences for the four Americans that were murdered by the pirates which had seized their yacht. I hope that they are punished to the full extent of the law.

    The article clearly outlines the problems associated with the current approach of trying to deal with piracy on the high seas in a purely reactive capacity. Until the world decides to act against the true sponsors and instigators, i.e. the financiers, ringleaders, politicians and warlords, that fund, foment and benefit from this criminal enterprise, the problem of piracy in the Horn of Africa cannot be eradicated.

    Concurrent with this effort against the ‘corporate’ face of piracy, must be a military effort to seize and clean out the safe havens that the pirates have established in Puntland and further south along the Somali coast on the Indian Ocean. This can be done relatively easily since the pirates are neither heavily armed, nor well trained militarily and would not be able to withstand a well planned assault by a well armed and professional military force.

    Such a force would, however, need to be a principally Somali one for a whole host of political reasons, not least of which is to prevent the entry of local people and militias into a conflict with ‘foreign invaders’. I have addressed such a proposal in a paper outlining an alternative strategy to address the problem of re-establishing the state and governance in Somalia, which is the root cause of the piracy and terrorism scourges presently afflicting that country.

    In conclusion, Mr. Baker’s article clearly outlines the problem and points in the direction of a solution, and others have outlined credible strategies for its implementation. As he says, what is missing is the mettle.

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