The presence of warships has been cited by imprisoned Somali pirates as a deterrent during a survey conducted by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP).
The informal survey was done in the Hargesia prison in Somaliland, Bosasso prison in Puntland and Montagne Posee prison in Seychelles and was intended to establish prisoner attitudes about piracy and effective deterrents.
“The survey and its findings should be viewed through the lens of what prisoners wanted to report to UNODC and not a wholly neutral survey. With that caveat, the survey finds issues of relevance to UNODC and counter-piracy activities,” said Conor Seyle, research director at One Earth Future Foundation, which manages the OBP project.
The survey asked prisoners to identify their motivation for going to sea, if they knew anyone who had left piracy and what their plans were post-prison. Questions were also asked on the most effective deterrents to piracy and what might stop piracy in the long term.
Results indicated there is a clear economic basis for piracy and, Seyle said, long terms solutions may require addressing this.
One prisoner reported going to sea because “my family is poor, that’s why I joined the pirates”. Another said he left piracy because he had sufficient money to retire while others pointed to illegal fishing as a reason for piracy and suggested if it persisted then piracy may continue.
Prisoners who knew pirates who have quit piracy indicated family and community pressures were important considerations for giving up piracy and that counter-piracy messaging encouraging this could be valuable.
Another prisoner said: “Prison is the worst place to be in the world” with other prisoners citing a fear of prison time as a deterrent.
International naval presence was frequently reported as a concern or as making a significant contribution to deterring pirates. The same was true for armed guards aboard vessels, although to a lesser degree than the presence of warships. According to Seyle this suggests a significant draw down in naval forces may reduce a deterrent factor potentially contributing to the reduction in piracy.
“Overall the survey has shown international navies, family and social disapproval and the deterrent effects of prison are all element of suppressing piracy while economic pressures and illegal fishing push people to piracy .It also shows there is a need for a co-ordinated response rather than a one size fits all solution,” he said.