Is Somali piracy over?
April 10th, 2013
09:34 AM ET

Is Somali piracy over?

By Urmila Venugopalan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Urmila Venugopalan is the South Asia manager at Oceans Beyond Piracy, a U.S.-based non-profit. You can follow her on Twitter @Urmila_V. The views expressed are her own.

Difficult economic conditions have pushed many a business leader into early retirement. But Mohamed Abdi Hassan – the Somali pirate kingpin nicknamed “Afweyne” or “Big Mouth” – surely never expected to be among them. The notorious crime boss made a splash at the beginning of this year when he announced his decision to “quit” piracy after eight lucrative years in the business. Coinciding with news reports that pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean have plunged to a five-year low, Hassan’s “retirement” raises an unexpected question: is Somali piracy over?

Certainly, the statistics paint an optimistic picture of fewer attacks and fewer successful hijackings. The International Maritime Bureau’s 2012 annual report noted that the number of recorded pirate attacks fell dramatically, from 237 in 2011 to just 75 last year. Attempted attacks also dropped sharply, from 189 in 2011 to 59 in 2012, although this figure is likely complicated by increased in the underreporting of such incidents. Pirates were also less successful at hijacking commercial vessels, capturing only 14 last year, down 50 percent from 2011. These statistics have encouraged some to claim that the Somali piracy bubble has burst.

But is it too soon to write off this business?

Certainly, the international community’s circumspect reaction to these figures is telling. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon warned in November that despite the sharp decline in attacks, progress was fragile and “easily reversed if we do not address the causes of piracy.” Other leaders have echoed this sentiment, suggesting that the falling numbers are not necessarily evidence of a firm positive trend.

So what is really driving Somali piracy to its lowest level in five years? For a start, there are the ongoing international naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. In particular, enhanced cooperation among international navies has been a key factor behind the steep drop in piracy. For example, regular naval patrols led by the “big three” missions – NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, the EU’s Operation Atlanta, and Combined Task Force 151 – have been supplemented since last year by an increase in unilateral deployments by China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. Indeed, on any given day during 2012, there were between 21 and 30 vessels taking part in east African counter-piracy efforts.

More from CNN: Help Somalia fight roots of piracy

But patrolling an area of about four million square kilometers – roughly equivalent to one and a half times the size of mainland Europe – is expensive. In fact, Oceans Beyond Piracy calculated in its 2012 Economic Cost of Piracy report that the total military cost for the big three naval operations was around $1 billion. With the global economy still sluggish, and with governments cutting budgets, it is difficult to imagine there will be the political will to sustain a long term counter-piracy presence in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the declining number of pirate attacks could well be interpreted as proof that the missions have fulfilled their objectives. All this means that there is a risk that pirate activity could well pick up after the EU and NATO’s counter-piracy mandates expire in 2014.

Still, deploying impressive military hardware isn’t the only way to keep shipping safe. Commercial vessels have also been increasingly employing privately contracted armed guards. So far, this appears to have been effective – not a single ship with private armed security on board has been hijacked by pirates to date. For many in the shipping industry, this regularly touted fact – coupled with the diminishing number of assaults – validates the growing use of armed guards. However, their use is not without its own set of challenges. Around half of all ships transiting the “high risk area” – which stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Seychelles in the south and up to the western coast of India – employ on average four-man teams of private armed guards. As a result, shipping companies are now spending between $1.15 billion and $1.53 billion dollars per year on these armed security teams, according to the 2012 Economic Cost of Piracy study. And while private security firms can justifiably claim to have made the seas safer for their clients, they continue to operate in a largely unregulated space, under uncertain rules of engagement.

A final factor in driving down incidences of piracy has been the implementation of the shipping industry’s current best management practices manual. In particular, it recommends that ships should transit at “full sea speed” (or at least 18 knots) throughout the high risk area – a tactic that has been successful in thwarting hijack attempts in recent years. So far, no vessel traveling at this speed or faster has been successfully hijacked. But this too comes at a price. When ships “speed up” while transiting the high risk area, they burn fuel more quickly. As a result, “shipping companies spent an extra $1.53 billion on fuel costs associated with steaming at faster than optimal speeds in order to prevent pirate attacks,” according to Oceans Beyond Piracy’s latest report.

Undoubtedly these high-cost band aids have been effective in reducing the number of pirate attacks and hijackings at sea. But the reality is that a comprehensive and lasting solution to piracy will have to take place on land, in Somalia.

Is this likely?

There was some reason for hope last year. The military gains made by AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) forces against al-Shabaab militants were matched by significant political progress, including the approval of a new constitution, the swearing-in of a parliament, and the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. But a series of suicide bombings in Mogadishu, coupled with the warning last week by the British government that it believes terrorist attacks are being planned in Somalia’s capital, are reminders of just how much remains to be done.

For now, Somalia remains fragile, meaning piracy could remain the most visible outgrowth of chronic economic and political instability onshore. The question the international community now faces is how willing is it to continue applying billion dollar band aids that temporarily mitigate, but do not truly eliminate, the threat.

Post by:
Topics: Somalia

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahaha

    Hey!!!!!......Isn't that my "Dead Uncle" in that picture??.......You know....The one I inherited a million dollars from and they need my bank account number to deposit the check!!! Hahahahahahahahahahhaha

    April 10, 2013 at 10:00 am | Reply
  2. wjm

    In each of the scenarios talked about here, the cost is the same 1.50 or 1.53 billion dollars, it tells me the Somalians would do better taking the security jobs on the ships. If what is being done is working then the shipping companies should stop their bellyaching and pay the cash it takes to stay safe. You already know the cost is being recooped on the other end when the people who need the product on board pay for it. You would think though it would be easier to blockade the coast of Somalia, stopping the pirates before they even get to sea. It might give America the chance to test its new laser technology on real targets.

    April 10, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  3. 100 % ETHIO

    Have a civilized manner.
    Is piracy in the Caribbean OVER?!

    The late 17th and early 18th Centuries, 1716 to 1726, were often considered, "The Golden age of Piracy".
    Their Flag was Two Swards and Human Skull.

    Don't you allow a copy cat permission, for a while?

    Piracy in Somalia is formed as a hand to mouth issue, nothing political.
    They are asking, we are hungry. Either give us Fish or we will get Fish out of you. Nothing wrong.

    Back in the 1995, Canada has big issues with European in general, with Spain particular, about European Fishery in Canadian boarder.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  4. enikolo

    A possible answer could be at

    April 10, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  5. Guy Thomas

    The counter piracy efforts, including the use of commercial space systems such as the several radar satellites and AIS (a collision avoidance beacon on all commercial ships which tells you where the "good guys" are) have also increased their efficiency significantly. This is due, in part, to the ability to share the information derived from these commercial, and thus unclassified, space systems.

    April 11, 2013 at 6:52 am | Reply
  6. Jay Bahadur

    Hassan "Afweyne" didn't actually "retire" this year... his presser was just a PR stunt encouraged by the Himan & Heeb administration, which has been trying to draw attention to itself through its pirate amnesty program, etc.

    In reality, Afweyne got out of the piracy trade several years ago, handing over day-to-day operations to his son Abdikadir. I wrote an article about this last month for The Daily Beast:

    April 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  7. awl

    pirate sweeps our fishs and dumps toxin in the sea

    April 15, 2013 at 12:41 am | Reply
  8. Wilber Cilley

    When i retire I would adore to move to Hawaii.

    July 23, 2013 at 2:50 am | Reply
  9. Hank Gradwohl

    This website online is known as a stroll-via for all of the info you wanted about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and also you�ll definitely uncover it.

    July 30, 2013 at 11:36 am | Reply
  10. Kit Overbo

    Oh my goodness! an incredible article dude. Thank you Nonetheless I am experiencing challenge with ur rss . Don�t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anyone getting identical rss downside? Anyone who knows kindly respond. Thnkx

    July 30, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  11. Miss Conver

    A formidable share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little bit analysis on this. And he in reality bought me breakfast as a result of I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you turn into expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more details? It is highly helpful for me. Big thumb up for this blog post!

    August 1, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  12. Whitney Singewald

    This web page is known as a stroll-by for all the information you needed about this and didn�t know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and also you�ll undoubtedly uncover it.

    August 2, 2013 at 3:38 am | Reply
  13. Maxima Decourt

    Arranged the timetable intended for operate. Avoiding accomplishing an excessive amount do the job as well as receiving burnt out, create the times you will likely be doing work as well as the times you will likely be regenerating. Working extended stays is oftentimes required, nevertheless make certain not to overdo the idea. Attempt wasting a long time with all your household as a way to offset tension.

    August 4, 2013 at 9:01 am | Reply
  14. Danny Treible

    There are certainly a number of particulars like that to take into consideration. That is a nice level to carry up. I offer the ideas above as normal inspiration however clearly there are questions just like the one you carry up the place a very powerful factor will probably be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged round issues like that, however I'm sure that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Each girls and boys really feel the affect of only a second�s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.

    August 5, 2013 at 8:55 am | Reply
  15. Zachary Boeckx

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how one can deliver an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more in style because you definitely have the gift.

    August 6, 2013 at 3:07 am | Reply
  16. Leanora Bubolz

    Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thanks Nevertheless I'm experiencing issue with ur rss . Don�t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

    August 6, 2013 at 9:23 am | Reply
  17. Moira Agnew

    Good post. I learn one thing more challenging on different blogs everyday. It's going to always be stimulating to learn content material from different writers and observe somewhat one thing from their store. I�d choose to make use of some with the content material on my weblog whether or not you don�t mind. Natually I�ll give you a hyperlink in your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

    August 8, 2013 at 6:33 am | Reply
  18. Omar Narayan

    I found your weblog website on google and test just a few of your early posts. Proceed to maintain up the excellent operate. I simply further up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. Searching for ahead to studying extra from you afterward!

    August 9, 2013 at 3:33 am | Reply
  19. Allan Pansullo

    Spot on with this write-up, I really suppose this website needs rather more consideration. I�ll most likely be again to read rather more, thanks for that info.

    August 12, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Reply
  20. Kent Biasotti

    Good post. I study one thing tougher on totally different blogs everyday. It's going to all the time be stimulating to learn content material from different writers and apply somewhat one thing from their store. I�d favor to make use of some with the content material on my weblog whether or not you don�t mind. Natually I�ll offer you a hyperlink in your net blog. Thanks for sharing.

    August 13, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
  21. Forest Dorrian

    This is the appropriate blog for anyone who desires to search out out about this topic. You notice so much its nearly laborious to argue with you (not that I really would wantHaHa). You positively put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

    August 13, 2013 at 9:13 am | Reply
  22. celebrity&nbspcellulite&nbsp

    You Lastly want the respect off your family and friends?

    October 26, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  23. Lovie R. Crossley

    It can be nearly not possible to see well-educated visitors on this matter, nonetheless you look like you fully understand the things you're posting on! Excellent
    Lovie R. Crossley

    April 23, 2014 at 1:05 am | Reply
  24. Stephen A. Hall

    You'll find it practically unattainable to see well-updated men and women on this matter, fortunately you come across as like you realize the things you're posting on! Regards
    Stephen A. Hall

    May 9, 2014 at 12:58 am | Reply
  25. zaborilenta

    I am glad to be a visitor of this complete web site! , appreciate it for this rare information! .

    September 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  26. 聊天室

    Some truly great information, Gladiola I found this. "Desire creates the power." by Raymond Holliwell.

    February 13, 2015 at 9:56 am | Reply
  27. 小叶紫檀2.0


    July 4, 2015 at 4:24 am | Reply
  28. 小叶紫檀佛珠


    July 18, 2015 at 4:29 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,024 other followers