Somalia was at one point one of the most beautiful and peaceful countries in Africa, prior to the civil war. After 1991, the entire landscape changed as the central government collapsed and the warlords began a battle of attrition to appropriate the resources of the country. Piracy off the coast of Somalia soon became a primary source of income for many disenfranchised youth and the largest threat to international shipping as the Somali civil war entered into its second phase in the early years of the 21st century. The sea bandits attacked cargo voyages, introducing a new element of terror not seen since Blackbeard, and as a result exponentially increasing international shipping costs.
Many factors contributed to shoring piracy off the coast of Somalia, but the greatest is simply a weak and struggling economy. The lack of economic opportunity is the consequence of a debilitating civil war, absence of a basic structure for law and justice, lack of infrastructure for law enforcement agencies, the warlords’ grip on resources and so on. A United Nations report suggests that illegal fishing is also major contributor to piracy. According to the German Institution for Economic Research and the US House Armed Services Committee, the dumping of toxic waste in Somalian waters by foreign vessels also devalued the mean income of local fishermen, forcing them to resort to violence as a means to earn a living.
By 1990, Somalia was an importer of petroleum products and manufactured goods. It was also a leading exporter of agricultural produce such as fruits, vegetables, molasses, and livestock. Merchants were very active in trading of foodstuffs and goods to northern Kenya and Ethiopia until the civil war destroyed all of Somalia’s physical infrastructure, and brought to an end the production of goods for export. It also significantly reduced other economic activities. Now, Somalia’s economy, trade, customs revenue for its federal and local government, and access to all resources necessary for the eventual reconstruction of the Somalian economy all remain particularly dependent on the sea and access to international shipping for survival.
Piracy off the Somali coast is only one manifestation of the tragic events that Somalia has been experiencing for the past 19 or 20 years. The insurmountable human tragedies that the Somali people have endured has led to the involvement of international aid organizations, often, proposing solutions that can be locally driven and supported, as well as offering novel ideas to strengthen local communities to reclaim their livelihoods. Pirates have been able to escape punishment due to the lack of international presence and centralized government in Somalia; in addition, many of the ships they attacked were unarmed.
In recent years, one of the most prominent acts of piracy off the coast of Somalia was the hijacking of the American cargo ship, MV Maersk Alabama. The event was the inspiration behind the blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks, Captain Philips, in which Somali pirates boarded the cargo ship and held the crew hostage for a number of days, resulting in the death of three pirates by the NAVY Seals.
Pirates can generally operate in a system where fishermen act as the leads due to their understanding of the sea, ex-militiamen or mercenaries provide the muscle, and the “techies” who handle GPS and other maritime devices.
- Piracy Imposes additional costs on business like Massive leads in the costs of ship insurance, higher shipping costs and security measures.
- Reduces port funds and revenues that are available for investment in port and its relevant transport.
- Makes Somalia as a “no go” path area for all international trade and shipping
- Discourages potential for business investors and partners.
- Reduces all customs revenues for federal, central and local governments.
- Reduces funds and incomes of those communities which are dependent on port revenues.
Only a few months ago in November 2015, Iranian and Thai ships were attacked by pirates off the Somali coast. The continued poverty, economic turmoil, and political strife devastating the East African nation does not appear to be coming to an end any time in the near future. However, there has been a significant reduction in pirate attacks due to an increased international presence in the East African shores.