“Piracy is like the poor, always with us?“

Poverty Reduction programs are employed by states to deal with the latter, so why is it ok to simply accept that piracy is business as normal for shipping or worse to engage in a war on piracy in order to keep the status quo operational.
There were two stirring reality checks which emerged from the Hanson Wade conference on Combating piracy held in London on 18-20 Oct . While Rt. Hon. John Speller MP’s question did not open the conference it certainly set one of the key themes of the conference with its startling admission of helplessness at the centre of this problem. This position seemed to imply that the status quo was set for the foreseeable future. Speller’s statement echoed the position of the US State Department’s Donna Hopkins position that there is no illegal fishing in the waters off Somalia because there is no Exclusive Economic Zone in the waters off Somalia and as such International fishing is not illegal and therefore should not be considered an excuse for pirate activities.
Both positions invoked the ire of the Somalis in the audience. There was a clear sense of the International community taking a stance that this issue would not go away and that the issues surrounding piracy were mired in a web of legal and political solutions and mitigation planning which were targeted offshore and in favour of the countries using the water off the coast of Somalia. The prevailing paradigm clearly spelt out was that of mitigation and containment versus solution and economic sense. Samkan’s Sam Egag’s view that there were no permanent friends to Somalia but permanent interests found some resonance in the emphasis of the conference that the over- riding objective should be protecting the waters and shipping lanes and ultimately protecting the Gulf of Aden and those countries dependent upon this waterway fro trade rather than working within communities to eradicte the attraction and viability of piracy as a career path.

There is no Somalia in Anti Somali piracy Operations

The question of the limited Somali involvement in the International solutions and in the multi-national planning of a response to the menace of piracy found voice in the contribution of the Hon. Saeed Mohammed Rage Minister of Maritime, ports and counter piracy, Puntland, Somalia who encapsulated the obvious frustration of the Somalis in the audience on two counts. In the first instance his view that “the pirates have more information than us. We have no communication centre and no means of communicating from onshore to the maritime forces, apart from our personal cell phones” was telling. This statement was particularly startling when new joint initiatives were discussed by Chris Trelawney, Deputy Director Marine Safety Division, IMO. The IMO, UK Maritime trade operations (UKMTO), NSC and The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) are cooperating with the establishment of three joint information fusion centres for the region based in Sanaa, Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. This new regional information network has been set up to pass maritime information within the community.

A common picture is also being established with radars and AIS systems in Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen and Oman. There are stable, well run regions of Somalia. The question of why one of these centres was not based on shore went unasked and unanswered. But Minister Rage’s question was poignant, “How can you work with us when you do not work with us.” Information sharing is non- existent.” At the end of the day the simple reality is that pirate vessels leave the shore to go hunting. The best possible intelligence can only come from on shore and yet this is not factored into current international mitigation efforts as discussed at the conference where new initiatives by UK government, EUNAVFOR, NATO,US Coast Guard, IMO, US State Department, UN Contact group on Piracy, Shipping companies and ship owner associations were all presented.

The sheer number of organisations and groups engaged in dealing with piracy off the coast of Somalia is a shocking indicator of why this situation has been allowed to escalate to the levels it has. There is no overarching organisation with single point of contact responsibility for response, co-ordination and mitigation. Despite all of this activity Chris Trelawney, IMO emphasized the fact that piracy is still grossly underreported. There are many interest groups and hundreds of meetings with multiple agencies whose work, like the presentations of the key players on the first day of the conference, overlapped. This approach is not cost effective and questionable.

Multi-disciplinary nature of Piracy

Conferences such as Hanson Wades’ play such an important role in dealing with complex multi disciplinary issues such as piracy. It is the single point at which all involved can take a step back and objectively view success or failure without the self congratulatory back patting that can occur in closed environments such as the multiple military operations underway. If there is one criticism to be made it would be that there was no in depth academic involvement in the conference given that there is a growing community of academics studying the issue from a holistic perspective. This group is not blinded by the fog of war, adrenaline rushes from operational engagements and do not have political and economic objectives or interests that govern the varying agencies who all have specific agendas which need to be met and which on occasion work counter to each other.
Military solutions kill pirates today but create tomorrow’s terrorists with grudges to be satisfied. Transit corridors and shifting sea lanes create desperation on shore and lead to changing business models which become more unpredictable and more lethal. That is to say without complementary solutions that engage the individuals in the pirate communities our mitigation is merely symptom alleviating while the virus begins to mutate to something more lethal. We are witnessing these developments already as the hostage model has shifted on shore and to ports where the Fairchem bogey, which was taken while at anchor, in port, is indicative.

The Immoral Vicious Circle

On the one hand, the shipping community is obligated to look after its ships, crews and cargoes and it can only do so with the means at its disposal. This single issue is a good indication of all things wrong with current solutions. Piracy by its nature is not a problem which can be dealt with from one perspective only. President Abdirahman Farole , of Puntland state, Somalia vocalised this splendidly in his acknowledgement that International law allows ship owners to pay ransoms to get their ships back. This does not help Somalia it also does not help hostages separated from their ships. It makes the job on shore even more difficult. It addresses only the short term and not the long term. It perpetuates the problem. During his presentation Mr Farole gave an example of a recent arrest of two US nationals in the process of breaking the law when they were found with a ransom payment of US 3million in cash on them. This immoral and illegal activity on shore feeds the immoral illegal behaviour which creates the economic success of this piracy model. This is indicative of why this problem has escalated to these dimensions. The solutions for ship owners present the single cause for the growth of piracy. With regard to ransom payment, what is legal Internationally is illegal in Somalia (the movement of excessive undeclared amounts of cash in suitcases) and perpetuates what is illegal at sea internationally but for Somalis, in their view, is a legitimate way for them to earn a living from their own waters. It is legal for fishing trawlers to fish the waters off Somalia to the tune of $300 million dollars annually but yet not a penny of this comes to Somalia. In the eyes of Somalis this is immoral and unfair and their recourse consequently is immoral and unfair to seafarers. This is not to justify the situation but to understand it and in understanding root it out.

Human Cost of Piracy

One of the key positives of this conference was the fact that comments were made off the record and in an environment where sensationalism was not tolerated and challenged. The audience while comprised of a large number of ship owners and insurance interests was allowed opportunity to voice their opinions on troubling issues of interest to them. One of the areas that should have had more air time however was the question of hostages who have been separated from their ships after their ships have been recaptured or returned. These sailors are akin to stateless individuals. No single entity takes up their cause as the ship owners have their ships back and Governments are not, quite rightly, negotiating with the hostage takers. It is left to individual families to ensure the return of their loved ones. Another issue not discussed is that of the condition in which these hostages are returned. There is a dramatic number of sailors who will need assistance and long term support to return to sea to earn their livelihood. PTSD issues should not be ruled out especially when we consider that this can take upwards of five years to develop. It is not just the ships that return damaged and needing a refit. The Human cost to piracy is as yet uncalculated. That cost has to include the onshore impact to the communities who have lost upwards of 2000 earning young men to jails or death at sea as well as the sea farers and their families.

On Shore Legislation in Somalia

Col. John Steed Principal Military Advisor to the UN Political Office for Somalia gave an excellent presentation which was unquestionably the highlight of the conference. The proposed declaration of the 19th December EEZ declaration for Somalia is a bright point on the horizon. The proposed piracy legislation for Somalia which does not have an anti piracy law and as such cannot arrest on shore for piracy as it is not illegal is another bright point. This legislation is carded for 18th March 2012.


The ongoing security sector reform in conjunction with Kenya is another key regional development but now thrown into disarray with the squabbling within the TFG and with Kenya’s questionable invasion of Somali territory. This action whether welcome or not should have been carried out with bold joint statements demonstrating agreement and collaboration. Even so, it jeopardises and alienates the TFG once again for allowing foreign nationals into Somalia to kill Somalis in order to deal with a Somali problem. Only Somalia can legitimately solve this issue and our efforts must be directed at equipping them to function in this capacity.

Status Quo

Despite all efforts the facts remain: counter piracy operations are not successful. There have been increased hijacks and hijack attempts and an increase in the number of victims and an increase in the areas of operation of the pirates despite the naval assets offshore and all the naval operations combined under various auspices for various objectives. There simple reason for this as elaborated by Col Steed is that there is no incentive to change the status quo.

Evolving Business Models: Terrorism Inc.

All eyes are now looking at the Gulf of Guinea where a new pirate business model is evolving spurred by the International success of the Somali maritime business men. For the pirate groups, piracy is big business . New definitions have to evolve to correctly deal with this situation. In this part of Africa maritime crime and piracy is actually business terrorism or to coin a phrase: Terrorism Inc. There is an unending supply of labour and a captive market around its coastline. It is a new economy in a country without any. The product life cycle of this activity is entering a new deadlier phase and now other impoverished coastal communities are looking on to copy the success.
Samkan’s Sam Egag’s parting contribution is certainly one that we should all bear in mind for future efforts . “If you do not share your success with the poor they will share their instability with you. Where there are no jobs, there will be no peace” Well done to Hanson Wade on a well rounded conference which clearly set out the understanding that the current rules of engagement need to be re-assessed and our long term objectives re-defined.

Candyce Kelshall is a Fellow at the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University. Her new book Armed Forces and Government has just been released. She is currently working on a DPhil in Maritime Terrorism and Piracy and is an Independent Advisor with both the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police in the UK.

Candyce Kelshall

About Candyce Kelshall

Doctoral candidate and BUCSIS Research Fellow. Independent advisor to British Transport police and Metropolitan Police. Candyce is the author of two books on Civil /military relations. "Armed Forces and Government" and "Mutiny and Revolution: Military pressure Groups"
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