Piracy on the Somali Coast - Causes and Costs

Page content

Pirates on the High Seas

Pirates are the equivalent of robbers and dacoits on land; and anyone keeping in touch with the world affairs currently through news or TV is certainly aware of the rising incidents of piracy especially in the Somalian region where dozens of incidents have occurred and are literally happening every other day. Various types of ships are becoming victims of piracy. Let’s learn a few facts about Somalian Piracy and why is it flourishing in that region.

A ship has lot of valuables in cash and kind, not to mention the most valuable of them all - human lives which can be bargained for huge amounts of money. Especially cruise ships have lots of passengers which would be having jewellery, cash, gold etc. Moreover except for Naval warships most commercial ships have hardly any means of defense and are relatively slow moving giant structures which makes them easy targets for piracy.

Piracy on the Somali Coast

The increase in piratical hijackings in recent years has come almost exclusively from one area of the world. It is regrettable but true that in many people’s minds the troubled nation of Somalia is synonymous with piracy. One thing that has been demonstrated time and again over the years is that a country with an unstable political regime will often find itself exporting crime due to a lack of other, more reliable exports which generally come about via trade agreements. As much as any other country, Somalia fits that bill due to its weak ruling administration and the divided nature of Somalia as a nation. Added to the lack of developmental aid which results from the lack of an infrastructure into which to place it, there is some inevitability about the use of other means to bring in money.

Cost of High Seas Piracy

Some estimates have it that Somali pirates received more than $150 million in ransom over the 12 month period between November 2007 and November 2008. Given the weak conventional economy in Somalia, it is not difficult to see how the conditions have persisted in which the piracy “industry”, for want of a better word, has thrived. The latest figures state that up to 73% of the Somali population live on a daily income of less than US $2.

I think the previous line sums up the main attraction for piracy among the younger generation. Having seen the success of previous pirate operations, young Somali men (in general) are attracted towards the gangs of pirates that recruit in villages. It is not hard to see why they are attracted – taking part in a successful operation can raise a person’s income and status to a point that would be simply impossible by more conventional means.

The Mini Black Economy of Somalia

Although the Federal government has policies that are broadly anti-piracy, their tenuous hold over the country has been a bar to their pursuit of those who break the rules. And for all that these rules, along with personal and religious morality, serve to foster some reluctance to join pirate gangs among young Somalis, this is counteracted by the trappings of great wealth that they witness being enjoyed by people of their age. Furthermore there is the fact that the illegal activity of the pirates has had a positive effect on local, legitimate economies as the pirates spend their newly gained wealth in their home villages. This has enabled certain areas to modernise significantly and to thrive on a financial front – making it all the more difficult to see how the problem of piracy can be tackled at a grass roots level.

Is there an Acceptable Level of Piracy?

All of the above factors do not, of course, make piracy an acceptable pursuit. The act of demanding money with menaces is a significant infringement of the freedom of those who are held while it is demanded. Although numerous pirate gangs have been said to treat their captives well – even providing high levels of comfort and nourishment in order to avoid the captives attempting heroic action along the lines of a citizen’s arrest – the fact remains that they cause a large amount of fear, upset, and commercially, a large level of disruption.