In spite of a drop in attacks, Somali piracy remains a threat to global shipping and represents a humanitarian tragedy for hijacked seafarers and kidnapped hostages, according to a United Nations report. Somali pirates are currently holding 174 hostages and eleven vessels.
In its Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the United Nations said that the drop in pirate attacks this year, mainly due to better maritime security, is causing pirate militias to adapt to this more hostile environment and focus on kidnapping people for ransom on land.
The report described Somali maritime piracy as a form of money-driven, clan-based, transnational organized crime, saying that it remained a threat to global shipping in 2011 and 2012, and represented a humanitarian tragedy for hijacked seafarers and kidnapped hostages, their families and employers.
“Somali pirates have never been more active than in 2011, registering a total of 237 incidents versus 219 in 2010. Most of this activity took place along Somalia’s eastern and southern coasts, the Arabian Sea, and the Southern Red Sea, while pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden further declined,” the report stated. A total of 470 seafarers were taken hostage in 2011, of whom three were injured and eight killed, a decline from 1 016 seafarers taken hostage in 2010, of whom reportedly 13 were injured and eight killed.
“However, the number of successful attacks dropped considerably, from 49 in 2010 to just 28 in 2011 – a reduction of 43 per cent. Half of these hijackings occurred in the first two months of the year, followed by a steep drop-off, with only 6 successful attacks occurring between May and December 2011 (versus 28 during the same period in 2010). This downward trend continued in the first quarter of 2012, as the number of reported piracy incidents and successful attacks both declined.”
For 2012 the International Maritime Bureau has recorded 70 incidents of piracy for Somalia, involving 13 successful hijackings, as of July 29. A total of 212 hostages were captured in these hijackings.
The Monitoring Group attributed the decreasing success rate to improvements in the implementation of Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, more effective international counter-piracy naval operations, and the increasing use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs).
However, the Group warned that pirate militias have begun to adapt to this more hostile operating environment in a variety of ways. “In central Somalia, pirate groups in have become involved in kidnapping for ransom on land, holding aid workers, journalists and tourists hostage. Pirate negotiators have begun marketing their services as ‘consultants’ and ‘experts’ on piracy and ‘consultants’, while exploring new types of criminal activity. A growing proportion of Somalis involved in piracy are members of the diaspora who hold dual nationality, and the Monitoring Group has identified several such individuals involved with pirate militia based near Harardheere. Some may also have ties to Al-Shabaab militants, Somali officials and private security companies involved in the counter piracy business. Pirate groups remain active in Puntland, where they appear to face no serious threat from the Puntland administration, despite the recent establishment of a Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF) with financial assistance from the UAE.
“The declining success of Somali pirate operations at sea may have contributed to more frequent kidnapping for ransom (KFR) on land, a trend that accelerated in September 2011 as foreign tourists, aid workers and a journalist were abducted in Kenya and Somalia before being transferred to the custody of Somali pirates. One of the pirate groups to have become involved in both KFR and ‘consulting’ is the Indian Ocean Network: a sub-group of the Harardheere-Hobyo Piracy Network (HHPN),” the report said.
Whilst investigating the movements and investments of piracy proceeds, the Monitoring Group identified several financial transfers between Somali pirates and individuals in the Somali diaspora, linked to a number of hijacking cases such as the Al Khaliq (2010), Orna (2010), Irene SL (2011), Zirku (2011), Rosalio D’Amato (2011) and Enrico Ievoli (2011).
The report attributes part of the drop in piracy attacks to the efforts – political, military, intelligence and financial – undertaken by the international community in recent years. Three large international task forces and a dozen independent, national missions are currently engaged in maritime counter piracy off the coast of Somalia. “However, such efforts are handicapped by the various judicial and legal obstacles that impede the investigation, prosecution and sanctioning of pirate leaders and kingpins,” the Monitoring Group cautions.
The 125 registered hijacking cases attributed to Somali pirates since 16 December 2008 have affected at least 83 different countries, all of whom would in theory be entitled to prosecute individuals who have cause harm to their citizens or national interests. Although 20 countries currently detain suspected Somali pirates in custody with a view to prosecution, not more than 10 of these governments have actually taken the initiative to undertake broader investigations into Somali pirate networks, the report noted.
“As a result, the international community is investing enormous resources to pursue and punish those at the bottom of the piracy pyramid – most of whom are impoverished, functionally illiterate youth who are easily replaced – while virtually guaranteeing impunity for those at the top of the piracy pyramid who bear greatest responsibility and profit the most.
“Similarly, attempts to impose targeted sanctions against senior Somali pirate figures have been thwarted in the UN Security Council. Since April 2010, the United Kingdom has placed a technical hold on proposed sanctions against pirate leaders to ensure that payments of ransoms remain legal.”
According to the Monitoring Group, some pirates also benefit from the collusion and protection of high-level government officials. In early April 2012, Malaysian immigration authorities identified Mohamed Abdi Hassan ‘Afweyne’, one of the most notorious and influential leaders of the Hobyo-Harardheere Piracy Network (HHPN), travelling with a Somali ‘diplomatic passport’ to visit his wife and family living abroad. In response to questions about his diplomatic status and the purpose of his trip Afweyne presented the authorities with an apparently official document issued by the Director of the TFG Presidency (Cabinet), Mohamed Moalim Hassan, with knowledge of TFG President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. The document stated that Afweyne was involved in counter-piracy activities on behalf of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for ‘Himan & Heeb’ region. Upon his return to Mogadishu a week later, Afweyne was reportedly summoned to the Presidency.
The Monitoring Group has since obtained confirmation of Afweyne’s status as a TFG ‘diplomat’ and corresponding possession of a diplomatic passport issued by TFG-officials with the authorization of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, implying that ‘Afweyne’, enjoys protection from the highest echelons within the TFG. The TFG President informed the Monitoring Group that Afweyne’s diplomatic status was one of several inducements intend to obtain the dismantling of his pirate network.
Apart from Somali pirates, the Monitoring Group also expressed concern about the unmonitored and largely unregulated activities of Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSCs) off the coast of Somalia. The Groups report said that these companies “may represent a new potential channel for the flow of arms and ammunition into Somalia and the region.”
“This highly profitable business has expanded beyond the provision of armed escorts to the leasing of arms, ammunition and security equipment, and the establishment of ‘floating armouries’ that operate in international waters beyond the remit of any effective international regulatory authority. PMSCs are currently holding approximately 7,000 weapons in circulation, which are either owned or leased,” the Monitoring Group said.
“The absence of control and inspection of armed activities inevitably creates opportunities for illegality and abuse, and increases the risk that the maritime security industry will be exploited by unscrupulous and criminal actors, eventually coming to represent a threat to regional peace and security, rather than part of the solution.”
In response to the challenge of piracy in Somalia, the Monitoring Group recommended that the Security Council Committee on Somalia and Eritrea designate known pirates and their associates for targeted measures, and consider establishing an investigative group to collect information, gather evidence and record testimonies relating to acts of Somali piracy, including and especially the identification of pirate leaders, financiers, negotiators, facilitators, support networks and beneficiaries.
It also suggested the Security Council call upon governments, international organizations and national law enforcement agencies to exchange evidence and information on piracy with a view to the arrest and prosecution of senior pirate leaders and their associates, or to their designation for targeted measures.
Regarding private maritime security companies, the Monitoring Group recommended that the Security Council consider establishing an international regulatory authority that regulates, monitors and inspects the activities of private maritime security companies operating floating armouries and providing armed protection to vessels in international waters.