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Are they showing up again?: Status of Somali pirates

Hello, this is Sunny Risk Management.

This time's theme is "Somalia". Many people may think of pirates as images of medieval Europe or cartoon characters, but pirates exist even in modern times, and they are commonly referred to as "modern pirates" throughout the world. From the latter half of the 1990s, it began to be taken up as an international issue. Southeast Asia including the coast of Indonesia, the Straits of Malacca, the coast of Somalia, and the Gulf of Aden are recognized as areas where a lot of clothing occurs, and according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in December 2023, the report states that the number of legal cases in the Gulf of Guinea is also on the rise. This time, let's take a moment to think about the Somali Pair, which was popular among modern pirates around 2011 and at one time accounted for more than half of the world's piracy incidents.


Speaking of Somali pirates, that movie...?


One of the reasons why Somali pirates became known to many people was the 2013 movie "Captain Phillips." A biographical film based on the 2009 hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, written by Richard Phillips, who was the captain of the hijacked container ship, and journalist Stephen Talty. This work is well known along with the original book “A Captain's Duty.''

In 2009, when the hijacking of Maersk Alabama took place, the number of piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden nearly doubled. Piracy incidents in the region were on the rise at a high level until 2011, but after a significant decline of about 70% in 2012, they will remain at a low level of single digits or zero incidents until 2022. Somalia has been in a state of civil war (Somali Civil War) since 1988, and conflicts between the various Somali clans continued to intensify. During this civil war, the government at the time collapsed, and for a long time, Somalia remained in a state of virtual anarchy with no government effectively controlling the entire country. Somalia suffered from chaos and poverty, and piracy is thought to have increased during this time. After 2009, when piracy incidents became noticeable, the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden became a focus of attention, mainly in the G7, and Somalia, receiving support from foreign countries in areas such as maritime security and economic cooperation, established the Federal Republic of Somalia in 2012. A republic was established and recognized the following year, and the situation has remained more stable than before while receiving further support. It can be said that the relative calm in domestic politics is one reason for the recent decrease in piracy incidents.


Threat from Somali Pirates


 There are two main threats from Somali pirates. These are (A) geopolitical risks and (B) the characteristics of Somali pirates.

First, regarding (A) geopolitical risks, Somalia is a country on the eastern edge of the African continent, facing the Arabian Sea. In particular, the northern part faces the Gulf of Aden, which is surrounded by the neighboring country Djibouti and Yemen on the opposite shore, this Gulf of Aden is a place that you must pass through when heading to the Suez Canal via the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. It is one of the key points for maritime transportation in the world. Merchant ships from various countries were sailing along the route that took them from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea and headed for the Suez Canal. Currently, in addition to avoiding attacks from Somali pirates, we are also conducting attacks on ships related to Israel in the Red Sea due to the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Sunni Islamic fundamentalist organization Hamas from October 2023. Navigation in the Red Sea is in a dangerous state due to the activities of the Houthi (Ansar Allah) Islamic Shia group in northern Yemen, which conducts the same operations, and measures such as detouring routes around the Cape of Good Hope are being taken. There are also many ships.

Next, let's talk about (B) the characteristics of Somali pirates. It is believed that Somali pirates are likely to be operating for different purposes than other pirates. Pirates generally tend to be robbers, but Somali pirates are said to be aiming to hijack ships by seajacking and demanding ransoms. Another distinctive feature of Somali pirates is that they use high-speed boats that have been modified from small fishing boats, making them difficult to distinguish from ordinary fishing boats.


Latest cases and countermeasures against Somali piracy


Although the number of piracy incidents has been decreasing off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, piracy activity has been seen again in recent years. For example, on November 27, 2023, the US Department of Defense stated that the temporary seizure of a commercial tanker in the Gulf of Aden on November 26, 2023, was carried out by Somali pirates. In this incident, the commercial tanker "Central Park" was captured, and a U.S. Navy warship responded to a distress call sent from the tanker. The five-armed individuals who surrendered were believed to be Somali nationals, and the Pentagon said the incident was related to piracy.

In addition, incidents in the Indian Ocean have been confirmed again, such as on January 29, 2024, when the Indian military released two Iranian fishing boats that had been seajacked off the coast of Somalia. On the same day, Seychelles' military also released a Sri Lankan ship that had been seajacked off the coast of Somalia. There is also Houthi activity in the Red Sea, and it will be necessary to carefully determine whether these incidents are piracy incidents by Somali pirates or part of attacks by the Houthi, while interrogating the detained persons. It seems possible.

In any case, the number of piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden is gradually increasing. In the surrounding area, countries are working together to combat piracy. Since 2008, Operation Atalanta has been operating mainly in EU member countries such as Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and France, and since 2009, it has been comprised of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Turkey, Pakistan, Singapore, etc. Zone defense is being carried out by the 151st Combined Task Force, and Japan, India, China, South Korea, and other countries are also independently dispatching their ships to conduct surveillance and escort. In addition, operations are being carried out to prevent piracy incidents from both inside and outside, including ODA and other support for Somalia. In addition, countermeasures are being taken not only at the national level but also at the management and field level, such as deploying armed guards on the ships themselves.


Future of the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden


Until 2022, there were very few piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, but the situation in the area has changed over the past year due to the impact of the military conflict between Israel and Hamas and subsequent attacks by the Houthis in the Red Sea. A lot has changed.

Furthermore, issues such as poverty in Somalia have not been completely resolved, and depending on the economic situation, Somali pirates may increase again. Piracy incidents involving Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden are one of the international issues that must continue to be addressed.


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