At the end of the previous decade, piracy along the Horn of Africa was big news. It had anyone who had to cross the Indian Ocean on edge. Statistically, piracy began to spike in 2007, reaching 48 successful attacks in 2010. 2011 had even more action, with more than 200 recorded incidents, but only 28 of them succeeded. The threat did not go unanswered, and since then, pirates’ attempts have been on the decline. There were zero successful attempts and only a handful of incidents in 2014-2015. A sense of safety has returned to these waters.
The first step toward that result was military action. One of the earliest responses was the assignment of Combined Task Force 150 to anti-piracy duties as early as 2006. Soon after, the military presence in the area was strengthened with the passing of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1838 in 2008, the European Union’s Operation Atalanta, and NATOs Operation Ocean Shield, which all involved anti-piracy naval deployment in the area. Independently, non-NATO and non-EU countries have also sent anti-piracy units to the area. Australia, China, India, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia have all sent ships.
These measures, along with the establishment of the IRTC (International Recommended Transit Corridor) and the warship escort of commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden, laid the foundation for reducing the threat. Surely these were not the only measures undertaken and they were definitely not the most efficient. A warship cannot be everywhere every time it might be needed. The ocean is a rather big place, and even the naval cooperation helicopters have a finite range. Moreover, they were focused only on the Gulf of Aden and in the waters north, while the pirates moved their AO into the wider Indian Ocean—reaching as far as India and Sri Lanka.
Next came the various organizations that monitor, advise, and coordinate a response, such as MSCHOA and UKMTO (United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations), the latter being an organization run by the UK government that was “deployed to Dubai in response to 9/11 attacks, and since 2007 is the primary point of contact in the case of an attack.” There is also a U.S.-led coordination group named the Contact Group On Piracy Off The Coast Of Somalia, a voluntary, ad hoc international forum that brings together countries, organizations, and industry groups with an interest in combating piracy. Participating states seek to coordinate political, military, and other efforts to bring an end to piracy off the coast of Somalia and to ensure that pirates are brought to justice.” These organizations promote the cooperation, coordination, and efficiency on all fronts of anti-piracy—from military to legal.
On the legal front, laws and processes for the indictment of suspected pirates have been introduced; in many cases in the past, they were simply let free after the confiscation of their weapons. The UK sent legal aid to Seychelles for that purpose, and laws were created to enable prosecution of pirates outside of Somalia.
On land, the autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland undertook anti-piracy campaigns targeting safe havens and pirates’ bases of operation. Moreover, the creation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force provided some basic form of governance and centralized response. The political situation in Somalia itself has changed with the presence of the troops of the African Union, their battling Al-Shabaab, and assistance to the central government for improved enforcement. As a result, the local clan leaders have become more reluctant to let captured ships dock in their clan areas’ beaches, while the airstrikes and raids on pirate safe havens by the U.S. and EU forces have disrupted the operational capabilities of the pirates.
The private sector responded to the threat by educating the captains and officers of ships in anti-piracy processes through the BMP4 (best manager practices) guide and, of course, employing armed security teams. To this day, no ship with armed guards has ever been captured, and this is definitely the most direct and effective response to pirate attacks.
The threat of piracy by Somalis is not what it was a couple of years ago. The attacks in the Gulf of Aden have virtually been eradicated by the coordinated efforts of governments, the private sector, and international organizations. This has restored some sense of safety in the area, but this is not the end. With Yemen in full-blown civil war and Somalia not yet stabilized, there is still a long way to go. We must remain vigilant.
(Featured image courtesy of worldtribune.com)