Somalia pirates: Unbeaten but under pressure

2012-02-22 13:42

Nairobi - Foreign navies and armed guards on boats have badly dented the cutthroat capabilities of marauding Somali pirates, but ending the scourge requires land-based solutions, analysts warn.

Somalia's pirates remain a fearsome force prowling far across the Indian Ocean seizing ships for ransom, costing the world billions of dollars each year and now branching out to increasing land-based attacks.

"Success rates have plummeted, and pirates have a hard time capturing ships," said Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian academic and Somalia expert, noting increased assaults by foreign navies on vessels used as pirate "motherships".

One reason for the decline in successful attacks has been the increased use by shipping of armed guards and other security measures, said J Peter Pham, of the Atlantic Council think tank.

"Most of the credit actually belongs to the shipping industry... whose adoption of defensive "best practices" and increased deployment of private armed security has effectively hardened vessels against seizure," Pham said.

But as successful attacks decline, ransom prices have risen: the average pay climbed to $5m in 2011 from $4m in 2010, according to the US-based Oceans Beyond Piracy monitoring group.

Somali attacks cost the world about $7bn in 2011, including more than $2bn for military operations, armed guards and equipment to protect ships, the group estimated in a report earlier this month.

Multiple pirate gangs hold a grim trophy haul of at least 34 vessels and over 400 hostages, according to the monitoring group Ecoterra, many seized by the use of small skiffs, grappling hooks and rocket-propelled grenades.

However, while such "aggressive levels" of foreign naval patrols have thwarted attacks, such tactics provide no long-term solution, said Rashid Abdi, a long-time Somalia expert.

Greater benefits

"There has been a significant scaling up of these naval operations, but that in itself is no comfort," said Abdi.

"The counter piracy naval patrols in Somalia may just be simply displacing the problem."

With warships only stopping individual attacks, analysts say that a land-based solution is required to provide impoverished communities with a reason not to resort to piracy.

"The solution is still onshore, especially to build up Puntland," Hansen said, referring to Somalia's semi-autonomous northern region, where many pirate gangs are based.

Ransom cash is funnelled to Puntland's cities of Garowe and Bosasso with little long-term benefit for the coastal communities who carry out the attacks, Britain's Chatham House think tank said in January.

Efforts should be made therefore to approach coastal communities to "offer them an alternative that brings them far greater benefits than hosting pirates does", Anja Shortland wrote in the report.

The impact of piracy remains huge, and finding solutions to end the menace was a key driver behind Britain's decision to mobilise international players at a February 23 London conference on Somalia.

"If I were a Somali I would thank Allah for the pirates," wrote Richard Dowden, the director of Britain's Royal African Society, arguing that the world had ignored Somalia for two decades as "civil wars destroyed the country."

"But the seizure of more than 200 ships by kids with guns in small craft has changed all that," Dowden added in a recent paper, noting a recent upsurge in international calls to end the anarchy.

Comprehensive solution

However, pressure at sea means the opportunistic bandits are also branching out to land-based kidnapping, including eyeing potential targets in neighbouring Ethiopia, or aid workers in Somalia's anarchic capital Mogadishu, Hansen said.

"The pirate groups have relocated to the hinterland - now they are kidnapping foreigners for ransom," said Abdi.

Kidnapping individuals may be an easier target than a merchant vessel bristling with guns and protected by warships, but have still proved troublesome targets for the bandits.

Reports suggest pirates have tightened security after a US Special Forces raid last month rescued two aid workers - an American and a Dane - and killed all nine kidnappers who had held them hostage for three months.

Several Western hostages seized on land are believed held by pirates, either kidnapped directly or sold on later to the pirates by other armed gangs.

They include a British tourist and two Spanish aid workers kidnapped in neighbouring Kenya, as well as an American writer seized in central Somalia.

Ending the problem cannot be done by a simple quick fix plan, however.

"We have to look for a comprehensive solution," warned Abdi.

Read more on:    us  |  kenya  |  somalia  |  east africa  |  somali pirates

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


ANCYL: Not voting would be blasphemy

Not voting in the forthcoming elections would be blasphemy, the ANCYL says in a statement commemorating the 50th anniversary of struggle icon Nelson Mandela's Rivonia trial speech.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Apple iPad 3 Black 64GB 9.7" Tablet With WiFi & 4G

Retina Display Finally the incredible Retina display technology from the iPhone...

From R7699.00

I'm shopping for:


There may be a break through, either through quiet contemplative time to connect to your deep side or forced on you more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.