Contact Us Press Releases AFRICOM Portal
Piracy Off the Horn of Africa Threatens Relief Efforts, Trade
The waters off the coast of Somalia have become increasingly dangerous as pirates hijack commercial ships packed with food, weapons and ammunition. More than 60 ships have been attacked in 2008, and ransom money paid to the pirates over time has
The waters off the coast of Somalia have become increasingly dangerous as pirates hijack commercial ships packed with food, weapons and ammunition. More than 60 ships have been attacked in 2008, and ransom money paid to the pirates over time has grown to more than $100 million.

While piracy has plagued the Somali region for a decade, London-based policy analysis organization Chatham House says the problem has worsened. A new report, Piracy in Somalia: Threatening Global Trade, Feeding Local Wars, points to Somalia as the perfect breeding ground for pirates.

Author Roger Middleton wrote: "With little functioning government, long, isolated sandy beaches and a population that is both desperate and used to war, Somalia is a perfect environment for piracy to thrive."

Somalia, a country whose trade and relief route is targeted by the pirates, does not have a maritime force to deal with the problem. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi highlighted the problem when he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the United Nations in September. Unchecked piracy, he said, could destabilize the region. "We very much hope the international community will respond," Zenawi said.
The problem has attracted the attention of the U.S. Navy, the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, has flagged piracy as "a global problem because of its deepening ties to international criminal networks and the disruption of vital commerce."

NATO quickly put together a Standing Naval Maritime Group responding to what NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer described as "lawlessness on the high seas." Three NATO ships--with more en route--deployed in response to an urgent appeal from the United Nations World Food Progamme to protect shipments of aid to Somalia.
The first NATO escort occurred at the end of October, successfully ensuring the delivery of supplies to African Union peacekeepers in conflict-ridden Somalia. The Italian, Greek, German, Turkish, American and British ships are authorized to use force to ensure safe passage for humanitarian relief supplies. The commander of U.S. and European forces, U.S. Army General John Craddock, said NATO's action indicates the alliance's willingness to step up to "the persistent threat of piracy."

The European Union reportedly will take over the mission from NATO when up to a half dozen ships sail into the area in December. Navies of nine European nations have pledged support. In addition, Russia has offered a frigate for patrols.
Another international force comprised of U.S., British, French, Canadian, German and Pakistani ships has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since May and reportedly has stopped a dozen pirate attacks there. The French reported capturing nine pirates recently.

By the end of 2008, close to two dozen international naval ships will be conducting anti-piracy missions. The Arab League is considering forming a force to stand up to the pirates some of whom are equipped with shoulder-launched missiles and rocket-propelled grenades.


The U.N. International Maritime Organization has been clamoring for greater international involvement since the summer of 2008.

The U.S. Central Command created the Maritime Security Patrol Area in the Gulf of Aden in August. A coalition force of ships and aircraft are patrolling for pirates and terrorists.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1838, passed in October, calls on interested nations to use their assets to counter piracy along Somalia's long coastline.
NATO statistics indicate that 10 commercial ships and several hundred crew members are currently being held by pirates, some of whom have told the Associated Press they will not be deterred from stealing the lucrative bounty aboard 20,000 vessels passing through the region each year.

The Navy's new Cooperative Strategy for the 21st Century calls for mitigating actions against sea-borne threats including piracy. The U.S. Navy has joined coalition forces to deter pirates and give the shipping industry time "to implement self-protection measures, and the international community [time] to establish a legal framework to hold pirates accountable for their actions," according to Vice Admiral William Gortney.
But Gortney told Reuters that coalition maritime forces do not have sufficient resources to offer around-the-clock protection from pirates. He urged merchant ships to conduct evasive maneuvers and to hire security teams as means to bring down their insurance premiums.

Such security teams might have helped the crew of the Ukrainian vessel Faina, which was hijacked September 25 by some 60 pirates made up of former fisherman, militiamen and high-tech gurus who are operating satellite telephones and Global Positioning System equipment. The U.S. 5th Fleet has been monitoring the situation via ships in visual contact with the hijacked vessel loaded with tanks and other military equipment.

The private security firm Blackwater Worldwide has rented a ship and equipped it with helicopters and armed personnel for anti-piracy missions.
Hollowpoint Protective Services Chief Executive John Harris told the Associated Press his firm is ready to conduct negotiations with pirates to secure the release of hijacked ships and hostages, or to conduct an armed intervention should negotiations fail.

The British security firm Eos has taken a nonlethal approach favoring laser, microwave and acoustical devices. Some vessels have successfully thwarted pirates by hosing them with water as they sought to board with flimsy ladders or grappling hooks. Meanwhile, warning shots fired from the USNS John Lenthall in October were enough to scare off two small skiffs favored by pirates.

International maritime officials advocate pre-emptive action. Somali officials have given international naval forces carte blanche to act, but international laws make guilt difficult to determine unless the pirates are caught in a raid.